By The International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics
It is not only the world economy that is in crisis. The teaching of economics is in crisis too, and this crisis has consequences far beyond the university walls.
What is taught shapes the minds of the next generation of policymakers, and therefore shapes the societies we live in. We, 37 associations of economics students from 19 different countries, believe it is time to reconsider the way economics is taught. We are dissatisfied with the dramatic narrowing of the curriculum that has taken place over the last couple of decades. This 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. The 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.
United across borders, we call for a change of course. We do not claim to have the perfect answer, but we have no doubt that economics students will profit from exposure to different perspectives and ideas. Pluralism could not only help to fertilize teaching and research and reinvigorate the discipline. Rather, pluralism carries the promise to bring economics back into the service of society. Three forms of pluralism shall be at the core of curricula: theoretical, methodological, and interdisciplinary.
Theoretical pluralism emphasizes the need to broaden the range of schools of thought represented in the curricula. It is not the particulars of any economic tradition we object to. Pluralism is not about choosing sides, but about encouraging intellectually rich debate and learning to critically contrast ideas. Where other disciplines embrace diversity and teach competing theories even when they are mutually incompatible, economics is often presented as a unified body of knowledge. Admittedly, the dominant tradition has internal variations. Yet, it is only one way of doing economics and of looking at the real world. This is unheard of in other fields; nobody would take seriously a degree program in psychology that focuses only on Freudianism, or a politics program that focuses only on state socialism.
An inclusive and comprehensive economics education should promote balanced exposure to a variety of theoretical perspectives, from the commonly taught neo-classically-based approaches to the largely excluded classical, post-Keynesian, institutional, ecological, feminist, Marxist and Austrian traditions – among others. Most economics students graduate without ever encountering such diverse perspectives in the classroom.
Furthermore, it is essential that core curricula include courses that provide context and foster reflexive thinking about economics and its methods per se, including philosophy of economics and the theory of knowledge. Also, because theories cannot be fully understood independently of the historical context in which they were formulated, students should be systematically exposed to the history of economic thought and to the classical literature on economics as well as to economic history. Currently, such courses are either nonexistent or marginalized to the fringes of economics curricula.
Methodological pluralism stresses the need to broaden the range of tools economists employ to grapple with economic questions. It is clear that math and statistics are crucial to our discipline. But all too often students learn to master quantitative methods without ever discussing if and why they should be used, the choice of assumptions and the applicability of results. Also, there are important aspects of economics that cannot be understood by exclusively using quantitative methods: sound economic inquiry requires that quantitative methods be complemented by methods used by other social sciences. For instance, the understanding of institutions and culture could be greatly enhanced if qualitative analysis was given more attention in economics curricula. Nevertheless, most economics students never take a single class in qualitative methods.
Finally, economics education should include interdisciplinary approaches and allow students to engage with other social sciences and the humanities. Economics is a social science; complex economic phenomena can seldom be understood if presented in a vacuum, removed from their sociological, political, and historical contexts. To properly discuss economic policy, students should understand the broader social impacts and moral implications of economic decisions.
While approaches to implementing such forms of pluralism will vary from place to place, general ideas for implementation might include:
● Hiring instructors and researchers who can bring theoretical and methodological diversity to economics programs;
● Creating texts and other pedagogical tools needed to support pluralist course offerings;
● Formalizing collaborations between social sciences and humanities departments or establishing special departments that could oversee interdisciplinary programs blending economics and other fields.
Change shall be difficult – it always is. But it is already happening. Indeed, students across the world have already started creating change step by step. We have filled lecture theatres in weekly lectures by invited speakers on topics not in the curriculum; we have organized reading groups, workshops, conferences; we have analyzed current syllabuses and drafted alternative programs; we have started teaching ourselves and others the new courses we would like to be taught. 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 change. Visit www.isipe.net to connect with our growing networks. Ultimately, pluralism in economics education is essential for healthy public debate. It is a matter of democracy.
The International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics (ISIPE) is a collaboration of 37 student associations from 19 different countries around the world that wants to bring about a more open, diverse, and pluralistic teaching of economics. For more information please visit the group at www.isipe.net.
• Colorado has passed a bill limiting the use of solitary confinement. Under the new legislation, individuals held in isolation will have their case reviewed every 90 days. The state will also create a step-down program to ease the transition for those previously placed in solitary.
• Three men with mental illness have sued a Massachusetts prison, Bridgewater State Hospital, for subjecting them to condition of confinement so extreme they would “shock the conscience of a reasonable person.” Lawyers allege that the number of hours patients at the prison spend in isolation or restraints is about “100 times greater” than at the five other facilities run by the state’s Department of Mental Health.
• National Geographic featured a profile on Laura Bates, who teaches Shakespeare to people in long-term solitary confinement in supermax prisons.
• The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has dismissed the government’s appeal in a case that may help establish stricter guidelines for placing someone in isolation. Franklin Higgins spent two years in solitary confinement after being indicted for the murder of another prisoner, but was eventually acquitted. His lawyers successfully argued that the state had unjustly relied on Higgins’ grand jury indictment when they initially transferred him into administrative segregation.
• Vice published an update in the case of the transgender teenage girl held in solitary confinement in a men’s prison in Connecticut.
• An Oregon prisoner has failed in his efforts to hold Department of Corrections and state officials responsible for his time spent in isolation. For more than two years, Joshua Robert Brown passed all but 40 minutes of his day in solitary confinement. Although the 9th Circuit Court concurred with a lower court that the Snake River Correctional Institution had violated Brown’s due process rights, the Court also concluded that state employees qualified for immunity.
• According to a state expert, those placed in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Detention Center in New Mexico are not being given the hour per day outside of their cells previously mandated by the courts. Prisoners are allegedly being deneid recreation time for relatively minor infractions, including not making their bed properly.
• A New Jersey pastor has published an Op-ed calling for an end to solitary confinement in the state.
• AlterNet is the latest outlet to publish a piece on Communications Management Units, which have been nicknamed “little Guantanamos” for greatly restricting prisoners’ contact with the outside world.
• A group of psychologists have released a letter addressed to President Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, in which they condemn the use of solitary confinement and other interrogation techniques as tantamount to torture. These techniques are included in the current Army Field Manual under Appendix M; that section applies to those who do not qualify as Prisoners of War under the Geneva Conventions, like those detained at Guantanamo.
Bill Cunningham | Seasoned New York Times (lambert). I’m much more taken with the narrator and the shots of the parks than with the fashion.
Researchers develop DNA GPS tool to accurately trace geographical ancestry Gizmag. Despite the how impressive an accomplishment this is, it still gives me the creeps. It will induce some people to get DNA tests, and I’m not at all keen about having that in a private database, since we all know there is no such thing as privacy any more.
Crunching the Numbers to Find the Best Airfare New York Times
Terminal neglect? How some hospices decline to treat the dying Washington Post :-(
A New Take On Sustainable Aquaculture Resilient Communities (Chuck L)
The Eurozone: out of the ashes? Simon Wren-Lewis
Palestine: U.S. Negotiator Asks For Third Intifada Moon of Alabama
Europe’s Precarious New Normal Project Syndicate. Propaganda warning.
NATO’s soft war on Russia Asia Times
Big Brother is Watching You Watch
Word of the Day: Capitulation CounterPunch
Why Silver Health Insurance Plans Are the Most Popular Jon Walker, Firedoglake
America’s “Immaculate Conception” Theory of War Crimes George Washington
Condi Rice cancels Rutgers speech after Iraq War protest Christian Science Monitor
Harvard and Princeton among 55 schools facing Title IX investigation Guardian. My take was this investigation was not serious if Harvard was not included; there have been previous complaints by women about Harvard refusing to investigate sexual assault cases.
Guillotine Revival Movement Gains Momentum American Prospect
The 9 Basics Of American Commerce That Everyone Should Know Business Insider
Shocking US jobs data impugns recovery, Fed tapering Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph
At Bank of America, a $4 Billion Wet Blanket on the Party New York Times
Student-loan collection Consumer Law & Policy
I am Approved for a Payday Loan Peter Foohey, Credit Slips
Loans That Avoid Banks? Maybe Not New York Times
Capitalism and its discontents David Kaiser
The mainstream economics curriculum needs an overhaul VoxEU. How about “mainstream economics needs an overhaul”?
The New American System Jim Manzi, National Affairs
Antidote du jour:here.
By Don Quijones, a freelance writer and translator based in Barcelona, Spain. His blog, Raging Bull-Shit, is a modest attempt to challenge some of the wishful thinking and scrub away the lathers of soft soap peddled by our political and business leaders and their loyal mainstream media. Originally published at Testosterone Pit
The people of Europe are finally pushing back against the European Super State, if recent polls are anything to go by. Having grown weary of being treated as lab rats in an increasingly dysfunctional economic and political experiment, a large minority of Europeans seem intent on voting for euroskeptic parties in the upcoming European elections.
The prospect is causing jitters not only among the big wigs in Brussels but also among many of Europe’s mainstream political parties, whose oligopoly on political power faces a serious threat for the first time in decades. Calculations by the Open Europe think tank suggest that hardline sceptics could take as many as 218 of the 751 seats available in the European Parliament.
In the UK, poll research shows that the most pro-European Westminster grouping – the Liberal Democrats – is about to have its European Parliamentary representation completely decimated. Indeed, so threatened do the three establishment parties in the UK feel by Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKip) that they hit back this week with a cross-party campaign to condemn it as “Euracist”, an ingenious combination of the two words “Europe” and “Racist”.
The episode serves as a timely reminder of just how dumbed down the inhabitants of Westminster have become. For not only does their latest sound bite imply that Europeans are now a common, unified race – anthropology clearly not being the UK political caste’s strong point – but it also suggests that Farage’s party is actually “racist” towards all members of this new race, including, one would assume, Britons themselves.
Put simply, the act reeks of ruthless desperation. And nowhere is the stench stronger than in Ten Downing Street whose incumbent, David Cameron, has even suggested he would resign if he failed to deliver on his pledge to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership after the next general election. He accepted voters might be “skeptical” about his promise but insisted: “I would not continue as Prime Minister unless it can be absolutely guaranteed this referendum will go ahead on an in-out basis.”
The problem for Cameron and, by extension, his party, is that most people – even many dyed-in-the-wool Tory voters – no longer believe him. Once-bitten, twice-shy voters still remember his “cast-iron” pledge, while in opposition, to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty – a pledge that turned out to be not-quite-so-cast-iron once in government. In short, an increasing number of UK voters no longer believe that any of the three mainstream parties offer any real protection against the EU’s plans for full-spectral dominance of the continent. And it’s not just in Britain: across the continent, voters are looking to the fringes for alternatives to Brussels’ authoritarian, technocratic model of governance.
“Populists”, “Extremists” and “Euracists”
In France, Marie Le Pen’s Front National is on course to humiliate Francois Hollande’s socialists in the European elections, with the latest polls suggesting that her party could gain as much as 24 percent of votes – four percentage points more than Hollande’s champagne-and-caviar socialists. In the Netherlands Gert Wilders’ Dutch Freedom Party is expected to perform just as well, setting the stage for a far-Right parliamentary bloc of 38 MEPs from at least seven countries, with the Austrian Freedom Party, Belgian Vlaams Belang, Italian Lega Nord, Slovak National Party and Sweden Democrats making up the numbers.
As for Europe’s radical leftist parties, they also expect to secure a larger presence in the European Parliament – primarily through big gains in austerity-hit Southern Europe. Leading the charge is Alex Tsipras’ Syriza party which is currently leading Greek polls. In Portugal, polls predict a 20 percent haul for far-left of centre parties, while in Spain Plural Left, of which the largest component is the communist-led United Left coalition, is hoping to garner over 10 percent of seats in the May 25 elections.
These are the so-called “populists”, “extremists” and “euracists” that will be joining the fray in Brussels once the dust has settled after the elections – and some fray it promises to be! On the one side will be an unruly coalition of far-right and nationalist groups who would like nothing better than to torpedo the European frigate once and for all – while no doubt enjoying the expenses-paid junkets that come with a political life in Brussels. On the other side of the aisle will be a motley crew of leftist parties determined to put an end to the EU’s fetish for austerity measures and bank bailouts.
Tower of Babble
Naturally, all of this will make for more entertaining political theatre in Brussels, as the EU’s stunted Tower of Babel becomes even more of a Tower of Babble. But will it actually make any significant difference in governance terms? Unfortunately, the answer is probably no — for the simple reason that the European Parliament had very limited power or influence.
Like a court eunuch, the Parliament was effectively neutered at birth. Put simply, its main mission in life is to give the wildly misleading impression that democracy actually exists in the EU. In reality, the Parliament cannot overrule the EU Commission nor can it even amend its budget on a line by line basis. Indeed, it cannot initiate legislation and it has no say whatsoever in foreign policy.
The European Parliament has no power to even hold individual members of the Commission to account. At best, it can overturn the entire executive branch, which it has done only once in its lifetime – back in 1999 when, thanks to leaks by commission-insider Paul Van Boetenin, the Parliament learnt of the irregularities, fraud and mismanagement within the Commission.
The real power in Brussels resides in the European Commission, the European Council of national leaders and the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers – three unelected institutions that are subject to virtually no democratic checks or balances.
A New Parliament, A New Commission
The first test the new parliament will likely face is to select the president of the European Commission. The EU’s executive body will for the first time be chosen under the provisions of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, which states that the European Council of EU leaders nominates the candidate “taking account of the elections of the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations”. This does not by any means guarantee that the elected “representatives” of the people will actually have a direct say in the selection.
But even if they do, the chances are that the choices available will not offer any kind of meaningful change in the direction of EU policy. Indeed, the list of candidates reads like a Who’s Who of European establishment politics and bureaucracy. The two favourites for the position are Martin Schultz, the bearded, table-thumping German social democrat who currently serves as president of the European Parliament; and Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime-minister of Luxembourg who in 2011, as president of the Eurogroup, famously said “when things get serious you have to lie.”
Also on the list is the current IMF chief Christine Lagarde, two failed Italian prime-ministers (Mario Monti and Enrico Letta), Spain’s current Minister of the Economy (and former Lehman Brothers’ banker) Luis de Guindos, and former Spanish premier José Luis Zapatero. Granted, the list does include a sprinkling of less compromised individuals, such as Alexis Tsipras and the Swedish Pirate Party’s 27-year-old representative Amelia Andersdotter. However, as the EU’s own website notes, their chances of being selected are pathetically slim.
If there’s one thing that the last five years of European crisis management (if that’s what you can call it) has shown, it is that the EU, like the late Maggie T, is not for turning. As current Commission President José Manuel Barroso has repeated time and again, there is no plan B in Brussels’ agenda. As such, one can expect any changes that do occur to be at best cosmetic in nature. And while there may be more bluster, blather and drama in Parliament and the ferocious rubber stamping of new EU laws and regulations may be slowed somewhat, the real power will remain in the same hands, and the owners of those hands are determined that the experiment will continue — damned the consequences!
As I wrote in “Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Silent Assassination of European Democracy”, the European elite has thus far masterfully exploited Europe’s economic decline and crisis of nation-state democracy and the resultant voter disaffection and apathy to enshrine a new system of rule by bureaucrats, bankers, technocrats and lobbyists. If anything, we can expect this trend to accelerate in 2014 as the Eurocrats seek to consolidate their power grab through the imposition of EU-wide banking and fiscal union. Once that’s done, the quest for the holy grail of full-blown political union will begin in earnest.
However, whatever the eurocrats might believe, it is by no means a fait accompli. The European Dream is one of modern history’s most ambitious (and most deeply flawed) experiments in political, social and economic re-engineering, and for it to work it needs, at least for just a little longer, the continued passive compliance of a majority of the experiment’s subjects – that is, the 500 million-or-so European lab rats whose lives it seeks to transform beyond all recognition — and certainly not for the better.
But the rats are finally wising up to the mad scientists’ devious plans for them, and growing ranks of them are mounting a mutiny in the laboratory. This May’s elections are just the beginning.