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Chronicle of Higher Education Article
on Challenges to Mainstream Economic Theory and Teaching

The January 24, 2003, issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education includes an article by Peter Monaghan, titled Taking On 'Rational Man.' The author describes disgruntled economists who feel as if they are trying "to start a fire under a huge wet blanket." While some orthodox economists, like those at the University of Notre Dame, feel that a single department does not have room for both mainstream and alternative views, others defend the mainstream position as being more accommodating than the critics say. Steven Keen, an economist at Australia's University of Western Sydney "is unimpressed. He says mainstream economists often tell reformers that they are attacking a straw man. But economics curriculums are still chockablock with the neoclassical. 'So I simply respond,' he says, 'If what I demolish is a straw man, why do you teach him?'"

Monaghan refers to the textbook with alternative views that is being prepared by Neva R. Goodwin and colleagues at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University. (See Microeconomics in Context) He quotes Goodwin as deploring the fact that "every year, 1.4 million undergraduates in the U.S. take an introductory economics course that teaches that only selfishness is rational."

Monaghan refers to several movements in which dissidents with a variety of objections to the mainstream are now finding common ground. One of these is ICAPE, the International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics, which includes Marxian, Austrian, and post-Keynesian economics, along with "the intersections of economics and such realms as feminism, environmentalism, and the law; and evolutionary theory, which views economies as akin to evolving biological systems." Monaghan notes that ICAPE's World Conference on the Future of Heterodox Economics will be held at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, June 5-7 2003 (see www.icape.org). Another growing dissident movement was started by French graduate students, then joined, in petitions and articles, by professional economists in France and around the world. (See the Post-Autistic Economics Review, http://www.paecon.net)

Referring to "the Teflon Orthodoxy," Monagan says, " Earlier attacks have left the American economics mainstream unscathed. The American Economic Association's Committee on Graduate Education in Economics, formed in 1988 and packed with big names, found similar faults with the discipline. One finding, says Mr. Leamer, a panelist: 'Students could solve complex math problems, but they couldn't solve simple economics problems that would have been central in the 1960s.' The committee's report appeared in 1991 in the flagship American Economic Review 'and was then ignored,' he recalls."

Deirdre N. McCloskey is quoted as saying "Probably three-quarters of the scholarly activity in economics is useless, will result in no understanding of the world…. Maybe higher. It's tragic."

To see the full text of Peter Moneghan's article, click here.

 

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