Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Foucault on Economics

Undergraduate Economist (perspective of an economics student) writes

Foucault on Economics’

“Very often economics is taught (in India) as if the present day economics is what has evolved out of the previous economic theories. Therefore, the multiple paradigms that prevail in economics are seldom expressed clearly. It is not uncommon to learn the theories of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, etc under Classical theories. Then, they are forgotten. They are mentioned as the initial thinkers. No more are they mentioned nor their relevance. For, neo-Smithians, neo-Rocardians, neo-Malthusians, etc are very much present. And, they do come out with better theories than the neoclassical economists.

This post suggests that one ought to know that there are ‘other’ truths (heterodox economic theories) apart from the truth that we are taught – neoclassical economics. And in this aspect, a reading of Foucault will prove to be immensely insightful

My advice to an undergraduate economist, especially someone who realises that their syllabi raises more questions than it answers, is to pursue their doubts, but to continue their studies diligently too, always.

There is much doubtful about neo-classical economics, as I sometimes allude to on Lost Legacy, but for purposes of earning the right to say so, and to research and teach alternative ideas, such as are found in Adam Smith and others, it is necessary to pass the examinations that are set by adherents of the current orthodoxy, and competence in neo-classical economics is the required standard by which academic posts are filled.

By all means read beyond the official reading list (Foucault included, though, personally, I would place Adam Smith’s Lectures on Jurisprudence at the top of my list), but you must read the official list too.

Your fellow students, who soak up uncritically the class tutors’ reading lists, believe me, with one or two exceptions, will read just enough to pass their tutors’ exams and will leave many subsidiary titles alone. For you, read all titles on the list, and in the citations and footnotes, in addition to the alternative titles, all more than enough to pass your exams.

And to pass them is the objective for you to go on to follow your doubts and, perhaps, create the alternative approaches, currently in the shadows.

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