Sunday, November 24, 2013

Student Challenges to the Orthodox Economics Teaching Monopoly

Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling Blog HERE 
From the left, we have Seamus Milne. He points to Manchester University students who are campaigning for a more pluralistic economics curriculum as a sign that "orthodox economist have failed their own market test. Granted, he could have widened the evidence base; there's a similar movement at Cambridge, at least. But he omits two facts:
- Demand to study ("orthodox") economics at university has risen 33% in the last six years, whilst applications to university generally are up by only 19%.
 - At least two universities  - Oxford and Manchester; I know coz I took 'em - used to offer courses in the history of economic thought, but dropped them in part for lack of demand.  
These two facts suggest that demand for "orthodox" economics is strong. It's too damned strong in my book, but things are as they are, not as we'd like them to be. (And anyway, the truth or not of "orthodox" economics is not to be decided by what undergraduates think.)
The always interesting, as he challenging, Chris Dillow, an economist with his feet on the ground, not in the clouds, who’s particular interests in aspects of the history of economic thought (Ricardo, Sraffa) is not a standard fixed-track, neoclassical economist. 
He plays down in that traditional Oxford manner, so annoying to non-Oxford people, the significance of these latest challenges to the dominant paradigm among the majority of departments teaching economics that is immersed in mathematics.
Dillow is full competent in maths as his Blog shows regularly, but how far he his neo-classical is not so obvious.  He is a realist from the pessimistic wing of critics of the prevailing orthodoxy.
As I understand what the mainly Manchester and Oxford undergraduates are asking for is a wider curriculum that neo-classical, mainly maths, focus on what they teach them at university.  I find this indicative of a broader malaise I find among many economists with whom I converse on occasion.  They know something is not quite right in the hallowed truths they are taught, and were and are required to teach others, but are not yet sure what is missing that give them more assurance to happily teach the syllabi in future.
Having met several Manchester academics over the years, including recently, and including one or two authorities on Ricardo and Sraffa, who were also members of the UK History of Economic Thought Society, and who are close or beyond retirement, I sense changes are taking place that will reduce further open interest in work on classical economic thought and it modern derivatives
Maybe, the students are reacting to further dilution of studying beyond outright neoclassical orthodoxy, a prevailing dogma that answers fewer and fewer questions about the current economy, here and elsewhere. I remember vaguely, a similar ruffling of the feathers over at Professor Mankew’s class at Harvard, back a few months, and his strictly limited to neoclassical orthodoxy teaching and famous textbooks.  Chris reports something happening at Cambridge too.  I know of attempts in Australia to downgrade research in the history of economic ideas that met with furious resistance across the teaching departments.
Chris points to evidence that he implies challenges the students' views:
Demand to study ("orthodox") economics at university has risen 33% in the last six years, whilst applications to university generally are up by only 19%.
I am surprised that this is used as evidence by Chris.
1. Students applying to universities are hardly in a position to know what is in the syllabi in sufficient detail to make a judgement that they did not want to go to anywhere teaching the history of economic thought. I didn’t know at the time what the details were nor could I judge what was relevant or not-relevant, other than having passed A-level economics (and Scottish Highers).
As students become informed, they have a better ideas as to what is missing and that’s why they may eventually suggest to faculty their views in 3rd year (or 4th year in Scotland).
2. That ‘demand’ falls for a History of Thought class can be influenced by other faculty, or by a particular individual teacher’s performance.  I do know that even in the last ten years the number – and quality! – of History of Economic Thought societies, here and abroad, particularly in Europe, South America, Japan and China, has increased noticeably.
If I were fit enough to travel, I could attend at least a dozen new ones that regularly feature senior and outstanding scholars known to me each year.  
Moreover, the rising quality of the US and European History of Economics Societies is manifest in the quality of the papers published from senior and newly graduated students to the crowded journals, and in some of those that are narrowly rejected. I know this from refereeing a half-dozen or more papers each year and from reading the new ones that are published in my small segment of interest (Adam Smith studies).
For these reasons I am more enthusiastic about the future of non-orthodox economics theory and applications than Chris appears to be.
Equilibrium theory, rational expectations and the obsession with prediction ritual magic is, and deserves to be, under challenge.


Blogger PeterM said...

In science 'orthodox' would probably be almost synonymous with consensus. Consensus Science comprising what most scientists would be the best theory to fit observed data.

Is this the same in economics? Does 'orthodox' have the best theories to explain the state of the current economy? If not, why not?

1:32 am  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

The short answer is no, that is not how orthodox neoclassical economists think.
They have a theory of rational expectations, support by maths as if it was perfectly true, and make predictions based on it.
Orthodox economics failed to explain the current crisis

12:45 pm  

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