10 July 2009

Economists of Tomorrow

Very good paper by Alan Freeman, read it here : Titled the Economists of Tomorrow, it talks of what kind of ideas do we want to spread in our economics courses and departments – The Abstract: It argues that a pluralist subject benchmark, derived from a pluralist code of conduct, is a prerequisite for the reform of the profession. Critical, pluralistic and independent thinking should be the primary requirement good economic practice, and specific provisions should be made to recognize, promote, defend and guarantee this good practice in teaching and assessment alike. This is needed because of what Colander et al (2008) term the “systemic failure” of economics –the profession’s inability, taken as a whole, to anticipate and understand the financial crash and recession of 2008. This exposes a deep-seated weakness in economics: systemic failure requires a systemic solution. The paper explains how the built-in tendency of the economic profession to select for conformity has led to its regulatory capture. Existing UK benchmarks have substituted peer-ranking – the appointment of judges selected for conformity – for collaborative peer review – the pluralistic integration of the strengths of the academic community. This past practice has become institutionalized at every level. The profoundly non-scientific practice of simply reproducing a politically acceptable consensus has thereby replaced the independent and critical pursuit of knowledge as the primary peer-recognized hallmark of quality. Tomorrow’s economists need to be defended against the systemic failure of the economics of today. This requires a conscious regulatory intervention – benchmarking for pluralism.
Parts of the paper that I liked best: The “good economist” of the future must do the diametric opposite of what her or his teachers have done. She or he must accept, entertain, and encourage difference and controversy; jettisoning the simple repetition of canon or doctrine in favour of critical independence which challenges and questions all received wisdom. Such capacities will develop only if the starting point is a recognition which economics has yet to achieve – that it contains more than one approach, more than one theory, and more than one proposed solution, to every problem it faces. Pluralism is the recognition of this fact. Pluralism draws on a lost economic tradition: controversy. The fertile currents which renew it flow both from the theoretical legacy of economic thought, and from the new and creative ideas, on such issues as feminist economics, sustainable economics, cultural economics, behavioural economics, financialisation, new trade theory and new labour market theory, which have emerged over the past forty years. Such thinking has matured, gaining vitality and confidence, in proportion to its marginalisation by the mainstream. Pluralism’s sweep extends to the beginning of economics, including both thinkers once lionised and since discarded, and also numerous thinkers whose ideas were rejected before being claimed as seminal. It includes intellectual giants, in a spectrum from left to right, whose work even when invoked is cited with zero regard for what was actually said, and including, for example, Friedrich Hayek, John Maynard Keynes, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Marx, Carl Menger, Hyman Minsky, Karl Polanyi, Joseph Schumpeter, and Thorstein Veblen. How are these alternatives to be placed at the disposal of tomorrow’s economists? Not, we insist, by replacing the present canon with any one of them. Economics over the decades has become used to the idea that progress consists simply of replacing one canon with another. Pluralism is a break with the entire conception that the state of economic knowledge at any given time may be encompassed in a single canon, doctrine, or dogma. It defines economics – in line with the other social sciences – as the co-existence of multiple theories, none of which is taken to be definitively true or false until, and unless, the evidence has accumulated to prove or disprove it.

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