Economics as a subject fails. In an open letter 42 associations of economics students in 19 countries called for more pluralism in the way economics is taught at universities. The letter said the subject was in crisis and its lack of intellectual diversity was limiting their ability to contend with multi-dimensional challenges. .

Here are some highlights

“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,” the student letter states, adding: “We, 42 associations of economic 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 multi-dimensional challenges of the 21st century – from financial stability, to food security and climate change.

“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.”

 

Change will take time

In 2013, for instance, the Post-Crash Economics Society – PCES – in Manchester produced a 60 page analysis: “Economics, Education and Unlearning: Economy education at the University of Manchester”, which was commented on in The Economist.

The report has a foreword by Andrew Haldane, chief economist designate at the Bank of England, titled “The Revolution in Economics”.

“It is time to rethink some of the basic building blocks of economics”, Haldane wrote, referring to the 2008 creation by George Soros of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, or INET, “to stimulate a refresh and reset of the economics discipline and, within that, economics teaching.

Other influential economists have supported the student agenda. For instance on 4 May Diane Coyle, managing director of Enlightenment Economics, wrote on the economics analysis website VoxEU that there was probably reasonable agreement on the need for curriculum reform, “but no agreement on whether this means rejecting the basic building blocks of the subject”.

The need for alternatives to ‘mainstream’ economic analysis is also supported by a number of best-selling books such as Ha-Joon Chang’s Economics: The user’s guide and the present volume by Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. The Paris-based economist, who is inspired by economic historian Fernand Braudel and the ‘Annales School (‘History Without Names’), monitored economic growth and the global dynamics of income and wealth distribution over the last 200 years, and delivers predictions for capital accumulation and distribution across many countries. Piketty explicitly criticises mainstream economics teaching for focusing too much on mathematical modelling and not on underlying economic dynamics. The international response to his book has been favourable: it sold more than 50,000 copies in early May when Amazon started distribution, and it could inspire students seeking ‘alternative’ economics.