What is in an economic syllabus?

Posted on Posted in Economics

P1160949The Post-Crash Economics Society (PCES) is a group of economics students at The University of Manchester, who started questioning the content/syllabus and the teaching methods of their economic degrees.  You can find out more about them and other students, as well as the hostile response they got from sections of their universities on this BBC radio programme : http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04svjbj

What I found most troubling when listening to the programme was the discovery that very few alternative economic perspectives are taught and, in fact, neoclassical economics is almost exclusively covered whilst other areas of thought such as institutional, evolutionary, Austrian, post-Keynesian, Marxist, feminist and ecological economics are almost entirely absent.

To me, this matters for two main reasons. Firstly, it plays to the idea that there is no alternative – students are not equipped to build critically on other alternative theories.   When they face complex and interdependent issues such as climate change or poverty they lack diverse ideas and the experience of cross-fertilization to test out theories.   Secondly, we cannot have a society that benefits all of us and the planet with the current economic system.   We need ways to share prosperity amongst 5 billion people without destroying the planet and we need economic students who understand this and can respond to this challenge.

PCES has set out compelling reasons why economics education fails students – who are future ofP1160904 economists – and some ideas of how education should be improved.  For most of us, economics sounds COMPLICATED, shrouded in language that we can’t understand – so we leave it to others.  I started to understand economics better when I began to think about it differently, namely:

  • Economics is NOT a science like biology or physics; it is a political and moral subject.
  • Moral and political beliefs determine economics
  • Since we can all engage in political and moral judgments, we can engage in economics

For example, African people used to be sold as property, traded as goods, recorded in ledgers as property, valued only for economic output, insured as goods.  They were seen as economic goods – but once trading people was viewed as morally and then politically unacceptable, the economic argument was lost. The same thing happened when it became unacceptable to send children into the mines to work.

Rethinking Economics  is an exciting, global student movement that is on a mission to reform the way economics is taught at universities. It currently takes the form of a network of over thirty student groups around the world.  They are inviting all of us, ordinary folk to take part in rethinking economic systems:  http://www.ecnmy.org/about/