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Saturday, 23 May 2009

Time to re-think economics not just the economy

Have been reminded of my long-held belief in the dangers of one conception of economics dominating our thinking by the recently launched 'Toxic Textbooks campaign (wesbite here on Facebook here

It is not just that the dominant neo-classical view on economics is deeply problematic, or normative (supporting an individualistic, utility and profit-maximising view of the self, is sexist and blind to ecological limits and realities), but its systematically 'crowding out' alternative views on economics. More pluralism is required in the teaching of economics to undergraduates as well as in the mainstream media, but it seems to me the best place to start is in the academy where economics is taught. I vividly remember my own undergraduate economics course as one where I was fed a diet of strict neo-classcial macro and micro economics, finance/monetary economics, an optional module on the history and modern origins of economics (now an increasing rarity in most undergraduate economics courses in the UK, Ireland and the US), and a right-wing version of 'market socialism' by Moore McDowell (brother of the former Progressive Democrat minister for Justice, Michael). There was no discussion of or even mention of Marxist economics, green economics, feminist approaches, etc. THis is not to completely dismiss neo-classical economics out of hand but simply to say a) neo-classical economics is not value free, scientific or neutral, but an ideologically-informed conception of 'political economy' and as ideolgical and normative as feminist, green or socialist economics and b) what has neo-classical economics to fear from some pluralism in economic thinking?

The current economic recession and evident failure of the neoliberal globalised, deregulated model is a chance not simply to change economic policy and strategy but also economic thinking - to change that is the grammar (rules) and not simply the language of economics.


  1. John,

    Great to hear this point made (+ by you over on It never ceases to amaze me how many people actually think economics can somehow be seperated from politics. Great quote in the Irish Times a few weeks back when eamon Ryan when didn't grant a prospecting license to gold diggers. the owner of the company said that he didn't blame the department because they "knew the industry" and bemoaning the fact that this decision was made for "political purposes". My first thought was what other purpose should a decision be based on?

    Keep up the writings and know you have a watcher.

  2. I should say reader - sorry.