GCGI supports the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics
- Kamran Mofid
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In the wake of the global financial crisis, many students in economics have expressed their discontent with their education. The GCGI supports the aims presented by the International Student Initiative for Pluralist Economics (ISIPE), which now has gathered 65 student groups demanding pluralism in economics education.
Part I- Why GCGI is supporting the ISIPE?
Perhaps the best way I can demonstrate this is by quoting a passage from an Open Letter I wrote to the editor of the Financial Times. I was prompted to write this letter in a response to an editorial which was published on 13 November 2013, under the title of “The new economics: Teaching of discipline needs to rely less on abstract models”.
…“And now a note from Kamran Mofid to the Editor of Financial Times:
Sir, I have read your editorial ‘A new economics’ with much interest. You conclude your piece by asking the economics profession to substitute a little humility for pretension as the first step to a new economics: I wholeheartedly agree.
However, may I respectfully ask you to let me know if you had ever written an editorial in similar vein before the crash of September 2008? Had you ever encouraged your readers to think about economic pluralism? Have you ever encouraged a dialogue of disciplines, ideas and visions in the study and practice of economics: a dialogue between economics, ethics, philosophy, spirituality, and the common good? Have you ever encouraged the wealth-creators that read your paper to reflect on ‘Why’ and ‘How’ wealth is produced and, more importantly, when wealth is created, ‘What’ it is going to be used for?
Knowing how busy you are, may I share with you a short passage on the subject from a book I wrote in 2005, well before the crash of September 2008:
‘From 1980 onwards, for the next twenty years, I taught economics in universities, enthusiastically demonstrating how economic theories provided answers to problems of all sorts. I got quite carried away by the beauty, the sophisticated elegance, of complicated mathematical models and theories. But gradually I started to have an empty feeling.
‘I began to ask fundamental questions of myself. Why did I never talk to my students about compassion, dignity, comradeship, solidarity, happiness, spirituality – about the meaning of life? We never debated the biggest questions. Who are we? Where have we come from? Where are we going to?
‘I told them to create wealth, but I did not tell them for what reason. I told them about scarcity and competition, but not about abundance and co-operation. I told them about free trade, but not about fair trade; about GNP – Gross National Product – but not about GNH – Gross National Happiness. I told them about profit maximisation and cost minimisation, about the highest returns to the shareholders, but not about social consciousness, accountability to the community, sustainability and respect for creation and the creator. I did not tell them that, without humanity, economics is a house of cards built on shifting sands.
‘These conflicts caused me much frustration and alienation, leading to heartache and despair. I needed to rediscover myself and real-life economics. After a proud twenty-year or so academic career, I became a student all over again. I would study theology, philosophy and ethics, disciplines nobody had taught me when I was a student of economics and I did not teach my own students when I became a teacher of economics.
‘It was at this difficult time that I came to understand that I needed to bring spirituality, compassion, ethics and morality back into economics itself, to make this dismal science once again relevant to and concerned with the common good.’
I then went on to found the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative to work towards this.”…
Part II- ISIPE: Vision and Aims- An Executive Summary
The ISIPE group claims that theoretical pluralism should exist amongst the different traditions of economics; methodological pluralism between quantitative and qualitative methods as well as towards reflexive sub-disciplines of economics such as history of economic thought and economic epistemology; and, pluralism towards the other social sciences that is interdisciplinary.
GCGI supports ISIPE’s members that strongly believe that pluralism will give students in economics the tools to deal with challenges of the twenty-first century that education in economics does not currently address. Better adequacy between the education and the students’ environment, which provide interdisciplinary and transferrable skills, are core to GCGI’s fight for better quality education. GCGI encourages all values-led academics, students, business leaders and members of society to show their support to the ISIPE’s initiative by joining the movement or by signing up to it on its website http://www.isipe.net/supportus/
Students’ discontentment in economics education is not new, from the Australian 1970s movement for political economy to the French movement for a post-autistic economics in the early 2000s (In Praise of the Economic Students at the Sorbonne: The Class of 2000 ) that quickly spread in other countries such as UK, USA and Germany, economics education have always been controversial. The crisis has made such disenchantment bigger than ever and students soon realised they were not taught the right tools to understand the current economic environment and were not able to respond correctly to the economic crisis.
Part III- ISIPE- Open Letter
An international student call 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, over 65 associations of economics students from over 30 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 real world should be brought back into the classroom, as well as debate and a pluralism of theories and methods. Such change 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 will not only help to enrich teaching and research and reinvigorate the discipline. More than this, pluralism carries the promise of bringing economics back into the service of society. Three forms of pluralism must 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. Such uniformity 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 neoclassically-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 non-existent 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 maths 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 which cannot be understood using exclusively quantitative methods: sound economic inquiry requires that quantitative methods are 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 will 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 included in the curriculum; we have organised reading groups, workshops, conferences; we have analysed 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. See Support us to show your support and connect with our growing networks. Ultimately, pluralism in economics education is essential for healthy public debate. It is a matter of democracy.