[Marxism] Economics students call for shakeup of the way their subject is taught

Tristan Sloughter tristan.sloughter at gmail.com
Mon May 5 08:17:21 MDT 2014


Economics students call for shakeup of the way their subject is taught
Students from 19 countries argue economics courses failing wider society
by ignoring need to address 21st-century issues

Phillip Inman, economics correspondent

Economics students from 19 countries have joined forces to call for an
overhaul of the way their subject is taught, saying the dominance of
narrow free-market theories at top universities harms the world's
ability to confront challenges such as financial stability and climate

In the first global protest against mainstream economic teaching, the
International Student Initiative for Pluralist Economics (ISIPE) argues
in a letter to the Guardian that economics courses are failing wider
society when they ignore evidence from other disciplines.

The students, who have formed 41 protest groups in universities from
Britain and the US to Brazil and Russia, say research and teaching in
economics departments is too narrowly focused and more effort should be
made to broaden the curriculum. They want courses to include analysis of
the financial crash that so many economists failed to see coming, and
say the discipline has become divorced from the real world.

"The lack of intellectual diversity does not only restrain education and
research. It limits our ability to contend with the multidimensional
challenges of the 21st century – from financial stability to food
security and climate change," they say in their manifesto.

"The real world should be brought back into the classroom, as well as
debate and a pluralism of theories and methods. This will help renew the
discipline and ultimately create a space in which solutions to society's
problems can be generated."

The move follows a series of protests in the UK led by students in
Manchester, Cambridge and London against academics who have been accused
of acting as cheerleaders for the market-financial models that helped
push the global financial system into the crisis.

Economics undergraduates at the University of Manchester, who formed the
Post-Crash Economics Society, recently issued their own manifesto for
reform with the endorsement of the Bank of England's incoming chief
economist, Andy Haldane. Haldane, who is currently director of financial
stability, said economists had forgotten the links between their subject
and other social science disciplines, which can give a broader and more
accurate picture of how an economy works.

He said: "The crisis has laid bare the latent inadequacies of economic
models. These models have failed to make sense of the sorts of extreme
macro-economic events, such as crises, recessions and depressions, which
matter most to society."

In the decade before the 2008 crash, many economists dismissed warnings
that property and stock markets were overvalued. US central bank boss
Alan Greenspan was a leading figure who argued that markets were
correctly pricing shares, property and exotic derivatives in line with
economic models of behaviour. It was only when the US sub-prime mortgage
market unravelled that regulators, policymakers and banks realised a
collective failure to spot the bubble had wrecked their economies.

In his bestselling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the
economist Thomas Piketty attacks mainstream economic teaching, accusing
academics of believing mathematical models without looking at growing
evidence that undermines the conclusions. Piketty's look back over the
last 200 years of economic development in search of lessons for the next
100 years is currently the best selling book on Amazon in the US.

He says academics have ignored evidence of growing inequality and its
influence on GDP growth since the 1970s.

"For too long economists have neglected the distribution of wealth,
partly because of the profession's undue enthusiasm for simplistic
mathematical models based on so-called representative agents," he says.

The student manifesto calls on university economics departments to hire
lecturers with a broader outlook and introduce a wider selection of
texts. It also asks that lecturers endorse collaborations between social
sciences and humanities departments or "establish special departments
that could oversee interdisciplinary programmes blending economics and
other fields".

The manifesto says: "Change will be difficult – it always is. But it is
already happening. Students across the world have already started
creating change step by step. We have founded university groups and
built networks both nationally and internationally. Change must come
from many places. So now we invite you – students, economists, and
non-economists – to join us and create the critical mass needed for

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