Posts Tagged ‘pluralism’

Post-Crash economics clashes with ‘econ tribe’

What is it all about?
The PCES report provides a concise overview of the systematically narrow and outdated teaching approach in economics, which unfortunately simply reflects the mainstream practice of economics. It highlights how the economics profession, and economic teaching, has seen a ‘great narrowing’ over the past two decades, all but redefining the discipline away from the study of economic phenomena, to the study of a particular family of equilibrium marginal models.

At a practical level the report offers guidance for improving teaching, and a wholeheartedly agree with the points made, which I summarise as follows (emphasis is quoted text)

  1. Economics education should begin with the study of economic problems, where economic phenomena are outlined and the student is given a toolkit and must evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of how different theories explain different phenomena.
  2. Introduce pluralism so that students understand that different models and theories can be applied or are most useful in different situations. Students should be able to consider a variety of theories before forming judgements. This is important because economic theory is not universally applicable and much depends much on institutional, historical and social contexts.
  3. Include the study of institutional power structures and politics. In doing so, students should be aware of the ethics of being an economist and a consideration of the ethical consequences of economic theory.
  4. Ensure that the philosophy of economics, or the more generally the philosophy of science, forms a core part of the curriculum. Student should be able to understandwhich assumptions are justified in a scientific theory and how rigorous must the ability to falsify a theory must be.
  5. Finally, provide students an understanding of the historical development of a particular model or economic paradigm in order to contextualise the approach and provide insight into the problems it was designed to solve and how context influenced its formation.


There often isn’t agreement about all the sources, causes, and processes of any social problem. This diversity of perspectives leads to disagreement as to what are the best solutions and how to achieve them. I think it’s best to deal with this complexity (if only to point out to students that it is there) from the start. The dilemma is, of course, balancing simplicity with reality in the course, but at least it teaches students that there are multiple points of view to almost everything, and that rational inquiry should be based on a dialectic argument and not submission to authority.

For example, many mainstream economists argue away unequal pay for women with the theory of “compensating variations” which states that women are, on the average, more expensive to private employers because of family responsibilities and reproduction, and thus markets dictate they get paid less. Somewhat more enlightened (but not radical) economists point out that this is a “market failure” since these women DO provide lots of value to society as a whole even if perhaps not to their private employers directly. Finally radicals see this as another facet of exploitation in capitalist patriarchal societies. Each of these approaches has different assumptions, different values, and consequently different proposed solutions…

So I’m suggesting to tackle the diversity of knowledge from the start and throughout… not easy :)

Sorry for no show this friday

Posted: 2013/04/05 by Punkonomics (@dearbalak) in Links/Articles/Video
Tags: , , ,

I’m on a very important trip to Oregon where im consulting with Willamette University to help them do a comprehensive review and reform of their economics program. They are super cool doing some amazing things and I’m really enjoying myself here. We’ll try to make an extra interesting show this coming Friday… perhaps its time to talk about the education system and the horrible way in which economics is taught in 99% of schools.