A Heterodox Perspective on the Curriculum Open-Access Resources in Economics (CORE) project of the Institute for New Economic Thinking
The Association for Heterodox Economics (AHE) is, along with the World Economics Association (WEA), one of several organizations that seek to transform economics. The need for such transformation has been widely recognized since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).
One of the more prominent responses to the GFC has been the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET). INET has also set itself the task of transforming economics. As part of this task INET has initiated a project to develop a new curriculum for economics: the Curriculum Open-Access Resources in Economics (CORE) project.
In an extensive report, Pluralism, Heterodoxy, and the Prospects for a new Economics Curriculum, we assess the potentials of this new curriculum in the context of INET’s founding concerns. We note seven key aspirations that can be inferred from the founding concerns of the INET project. The need for:
1. A change to the specific content of economics that has proved to be in error: some shift in theoretical form and emphasis…
2. A change to the common ‘paradigm’ within which specific branches of economics were in error…
3. A transmission of these changes through new content in the teaching of economics (a curriculum change)…
4. A change in the attitude of economists facilitated by a greater methodological awareness (extending to philosophy and the history of economic thought) of the limitations of economics… creating the grounds for a critical paradigm that is, ultimately, not a single closed paradigm….
5. A transmission of this change in attitude through the way the new curriculum is taught… creating a sense that economists can constructively disagree and that historically they have been and thus can always be in error…
6. With reference to 3, a transmission of this change in attitude through the content of the new curriculum that is to be taught; reflecting critical disagreements about foundational issues and embracing diversity…
7. An active promotion of diversity expressed in new research, career progression, and publication, both in terms of inter-disciplinarity and a constructive pluralism…
Our concern is that the CORE project seems unlikely to achieve any of these seven aspirations. As such, the positive potential of INET is, in this case, steadily being closed down.
What began as recognition of fundamental problems that require fundamental change is becoming a more modest set of alterations. An initial recognition of failure within economics is being translated into a context of relative success, requiring more limited changes.
The transformation is becoming a mainstream project and a matter of change without change (something Thomas Palley refers to as Gattopardo economics, see ref. below). It is our contention that heterodox economics, along with genuine diversity, is being marginalized in this process of ‘change’, and that this is to the detriment of the positive potential for transforming the discipline.
The Association for Heterodox Economists (AHE) was founded in 1999 precisely to address the kind of issues that are now more widely recognized through such high profile organizations as INET.
The CORE project in particular seems to neglect to teach:
- that economics can be defined in different ways;
- that an economic problem can be looked at from different theoretical perspectives;
- that economists constructively disagree;
- that economists can be in error;
- that economic ideas can be dangerous if uncontested; and
- that there is more to teaching economics in a historical context than simply a narrative and some data.
As such, despite the facts that the project is well intentioned and that INET is committed to engaging students, it seems unlikely that the CORE project as currently conceived will ultimately meet the expectations of new student organizations such as the WEA Young Economists, Rethinking Economics and Post-Crash Economics. There is a basic mismatch here.
The more that CORE becomes a mainstream project the more it will view limited change as radical because ,from a mainstream point of view, small changes are significant. Mainstream economics is slow to change and highly conservative, one can win a Nobel Prize for such theoretical breakthroughs as noting that people are not quite rational and economic activity has actual rules that affect the nature of the activity.
If one wishes to develop an economics profession that does not contribute to ills in the world, one must develop an economics that is genuinely plural and that is genuinely self-critical. This also contributes to better economic theory able to provide a range of explanations of real world economic phenomena, such as the possibility of financial crises.
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Thomas I. Palley, 2013. “Gattopardo economics: the crisis and the mainstream response of change that keeps things the same,” European Journal of Economics and Economic Policies: Intervention, Edward Elgar, vol. 10(2), pages 193-206.
From: p.10 of World Economics Association Newsletter 4(1), February 2014 http://www.worldeconomicsassociation.org/files/newsletter/Issue4-1.pdf