Economics Education: Soft-CORE Reforms or Radical Pluralism?

On campus

Besides outright repression, one of the most predictable establishment responses to a revolutionary challenge is an effort at co-optation. Without ceding any real power, authorities respond to discontent by offering mild reforms couched in the language of opposition movements. This strategy serves to blunt the opposition’s edge and achieve a PR victory by promoting a false sense of unity and resolution. “See, we hear you, we’re on your side, we’ve addressed your concerns,” the message goes; and against such staid reassurances, demands for more transformative action might be brushed off as the rantings of a malcontented minority.

The shrewd rebel economist should immediately spot this mechanism at work in the economics curricular reform effort known as the CORE Project (not to be mistaken for the U.S.’s Common Core). Indeed while the material presented in the CORE authors’ forthcoming textbook The Economy is largely anodyne from a mainstream perspective, the head of the project has hailed it as a “new economics for the #Occupy generation.” Meanwhile a Financial Times editorial has painted the effort as an answer to the global student outcry for a revolution of pluralism in economics education.

But the reality of the CORE Project fails to match the rhetoric both in process and in content. For starters, while the procedural ethos of #Occupy was all about inclusive deliberation and horizontal, democratic decision making, so far CORE has effectively ignored those values in favor of a closed, top-down process where input is only elicited as a kind of pro-forma gesture toward the student advocates whose discontent the project claims to reflect. A truly open, democratic effort would at a minimum involve establishing something like a panel of student contributors whose members had been elected from groups like the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics (ISIPE) and its member networks. But to look at the CORE “contributors” page, you’d think the effort had nothing to do with student advocates whatsoever, given that their presence is relegated to a few names on the “thank-you” list.

Minus serious contributions from students, it’s little surprise that the CORE material bears little resemblance to the pluralist transformation students have been calling for. The ISIPE manifesto, for example, calls for pluralism of theories, methodologies and disciplines in economics education. What this requires is parity between various schools of thought (e.g. Feminist, Marxist, Ecological, Post-Keynesian, Neoclassical etc.) emphasis on analytical tools besides math (epistemology, history of economic thought etc.) and serious cross-training in other relevant disciplines (political science, anthropology, sociology, ecology etc.). But rather than take the plunge into pluralism, CORE merely ventures to dip a cautious toe into those waters. In the first ten chapters of The Economy, major alternative thinkers such as Marx and Schumpeter see their contributions relegated to a smattering of sidebar commentary, while the analytical methodology is strictly limited to standard neoclassical modelling. Seeing as the work was drafted entirely by economists, it’s unsurprisingly also lacking in interdisciplinary content.

At best, with its passing nods to heterodoxy, and the healthy dose of skepticism it heaps on a few neoclassical fallacies such as perfect competition, The Economy is on its face a marginal improvement over the standard introductory economics texts. But given the low bar set by the latter, that’s saying very little. By no stretch of the imagination could this material be considered pluralist and the suggestion that it amounts to a curriculum for the “#Occupy generation” is patently absurd.

Fortunately, The Economy is still a work in progress with only 10 out of 21 chapters seeing a recent release online as a “beta” version. Ten more beta chapters are due to follow by the end of the year with the official roll-out slated for 2016. That leaves rebel economists with some time to push back against co-optation and highlight the gulf separating CORE from the type of pluralist revolution economics truly needs.

There are several easy ways to join the resistance. For one, you can register your disaffection with CORE by posting comments on the website, or setting up an account to offer specific feedback on the material. Better yet, team up with ISIPE and other student networks as they continue to advocate for a curriculum that is truly worthy of the #Occupy generation.

4 thoughts on “Economics Education: Soft-CORE Reforms or Radical Pluralism?

  1. Economics is the grand distraction from leaarning double entry bookkeeping. So, useful in utility, to society, individuals, and explanatory powers. Every educated person should know it.

  2. Professor Keen sugested that economic history and history is important to study. Yet the article suggest history of economic thought.

    If we have junk theories empirical history might be a substitute to junk and lead to better theories that better represent the real world.

    Would you please consider including my snippy double entry accounting comment because accounting is a way to develop better models in economics and critisise unrealistic ones. I would reference Dirk Bezimer’s 2009 paper, the work or Wynn Godley, and Steve Keen.

    Also, accounting is not required in many econ programs and it probably should be required in econ and all other programs as well. It is a great tecnology.
    Bezemer, Dirk, 2009. “No one saw this coming. Understanding financial crisis through accounting models,” Research Report 09002, University of Groningen

    Double entry bookkeeping or an accounting course would be serious cross-training with economics. To put like the article did.

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