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Since the book was mentioned again, and since commenters such as Luis seem to be puzzling over how to include the public in economic discussion, I thought it might be good to offer another comment. In the book we lay out our idea of public interest economists, who would actively go out and try to educate and engage with the local population (something which used to be relatively common for academics, at least in some disciplines). We believe that economists are afforded a great deal of authority - formal or informal - as a result of their training, as well as being reliant on public funding, and so the public have a right to demand something back. It wouldn't only be a one way street and the public do have a duty to engage too. But they need to have opportunities to do this beyond reading Paul Krugman's column in the NYT - which by most peoples' standards is still pretty inaccessible, and is at arms length compared with actual public education classes. Finally (to luis): public education would not be about teaching theories, whether neoclassical, Marxist or what have you. It would be about introducing people to the major debates in economics, some key ideas and jargon so they could come to their own conclusion. The call for pluralism refers to economics education rather than public education, though the public education would make it clear that there are multiple ways of understanding the economy, too.
Whoops, one more: torff, we do mention CORE in the book. While undoubtedly an improvement, it doesn't address the majority of our critique adequately. For example, it remains firmly within the bounds of neoclassical economics and there is little evidence of critical thinking.
Toggle Commented Jan 3, 2017 on The Econocracy: a review at Stumbling and Mumbling
Thanks for this review, Chris. You raise the question of whether we 'let the media off the hook'. It is undoubtedly true that whatever ills exist in our society cannot solely be blamed on economics, and it would be absurd to argue otherwise. We can only agree with your call for the media and universities to do more to sustain an open society (and we do call for the latter). But hey, it's a book about economics! In the book we tend to focus on technocratic institutions like central banks, competition policy, and the spectrum auctions over more contentious political debates such as fiscal austerity vs stimulus. We do this (a) to draw attention to these areas, which are still massively important (and have been since the crisis) but relatively underscrutinised and (b) to avoid being pigeonholed into contemporary partisan divides. We are aware people like Simon-Wren Lewis and yourself have been arguing that the stimulus debate ignores the views of economists, and while we sympathise we think this can be overstated – fiscal stimulus remains a contentious issue among economists, at least in the public realm. It is worth remembering George Osborne’s direct references to the Reinhart-Rogoff 90% threshold to justify austerity (at least before the whole Excel debacle). You also argue that the theory which accounts for basic facts in economics can be pretty complicated. But in many ways this is part of the problem – it is as if economists are not willing to say anything if it isn’t backed up by some complicated model. One can easily introduce students to the basic ideas in theories without making them go through the derivations, something our lecturer Devrim Yilmaz did in his Bubbles, Panics and Crashes evening module at Manchester. Luis Enrique: Bristol is not included in our sample because, like most universities, they were cagey with their curriculum. We would welcome a more comprehensive review of economics curricula across the country, including lecture notes if possible, but most universities were just not willing to give anything to us. It is perhaps interesting that Bristol is one of the few major universities where no student group has emerged, so perhaps you are right that it is better. You say “[the content of your courses] would not be evident from looking at some of the problem sets we set.” This isn’t what we did – we looked at course outlines and final exams to find out what was taught and whether passing required critical thinking and knowledge of empirical evidence. The answer was a firm ‘no’ on both of those counts. It is also important to note that all 3 of the authors, as well as virtually everybody in the student movement to reform economics, have experienced an economics education first hand. If we did not think our gathered data (and our interpretation thereof) accurately represented our own experiences, we would have at least acknowledged and discussed it in the book. Finally, you mention stylised facts. We actually discuss the use of stylised facts in the book: “Where facts are presented in economics classes, they are often ‘stylised facts’ – general, widely accepted pieces of evidence about economics – and the answers can even be found in the lecture notes. While better than nothing, stylised facts are simply insufficient to give students a critical perspective on models, since by their nature they are broad and could be consistent with any number of models; one example of a ‘stylised fact’ about the labour market might be that unemployment rises in recessions. Students do not build an in-depth knowledge of real-world economics but instead glean only a superficial understanding of the world while devoting most of their time to abstract models.” PS the money multiplier was taught to me unambiguously and directly in 3rd year, so again I think Bristol is probably unrepresentative in this regard. Sorry for the long comment!
Toggle Commented Jan 3, 2017 on The Econocracy: a review at Stumbling and Mumbling
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Jan 3, 2017