curriculum

This  book from the World Economics Association (WEA) – edited by me and Jack Reardon and supported throughout by Grazia Ietto-Gillies – originated with a successful WEA online conference. The volume has been conceived with current and future economics students in mind: they will be the economists of the future.

One of the main ideas underlining the book is that “being an economist” in the XXI century requires a radical change in the training of economists and such change requires a global effort. A new economics curriculum is needed in order to improve the understanding of the deep interactions between economics and the political forces and the historical processes of social change. The need for trans-disciplinary and interdisciplinary work is highlighted.

None of us can change economics education on our own. It is within the spirit of global effort at fundamental change in economics education that this book directly contributes to rethinking economics but also lead to direct change in the economics curriculum. The objective is to discuss issues such as: What are the some of the main critiques of current practices on theory, methods and structures?  Which are the current gaps in economics curriculum? What is missing in the current economics curriculum?  What economics major should know?

The call for reform has been eloquently and persuasively made by the contributors-  Nicola Acocella, Sheila Dow,  David Hemenway, Arturo Hermann, Grazia Ietto-Gillies,Maria Alejandra Madi, Lars Pålsson Syll, Constantine Passaris, Paul Ormerod, Jack Reardon, Alessando Roncaglia, Asad Zaman- and this volume represents one small step in the call to action.

After the Introduction that lays the background and conceptual foundation for the rest of the book, Part Two includes contributions related to the evidence on what is wrong with the existing economics education. The objective is to discuss issues such as: What are the some of the main critiques of current practices on theory, methods and structures?. Part Three  includes contributions related to what is missing in the current economics curriculum. The aim is to identify and suggest solutions for current gaps in the curriculum. This part addresses specific areas: varieties of methodologies, history of economic thought, modern economies and firms, finance and economic policy. Finally, Part Four – emphasizes what economics major should know and the need for trans-disciplinary and interdisciplinary work.

Indeed, this book  from the WEA is concerned about the need to engage on multiple fronts with simultaneous entry points with as many people as possible from all parts of the globe. We hope the book will stimulate further debate by both students and professional economists – whether academics or not – on how to progress towards a new economics curriculum.

The commodification of natural resources turned out to be  a feature of the long-run process of financial expansion that turned out to be characterized as the “financialization” of the capitalist economy where monopoly-finance capital increasingly affect social and economic reproduction.

In the last decades, market deregulation opened up new investment opportunities in sectors where private enterprises and foreign companies were formerly subject to restrictions such as mining, energy and telecommunications. In spite of some local resistance, market liberalization was introduced in many countries historically dominated by state-owned, vertically-integrated monopolies. In this setting, new energy investment patterns have been built in a context where institutional investors have assumed an active role in the selection of high profit potential projects for their portfolios. However, the outcomes of the 2008 global financial crisis put the question about the economic viability of new energy investments and policies on behalf of the reduction in economic activity and the risks of recession and higher unemployment rates.

Indeed, energy policies have been overwhelmed by tensions between governments’ actions, the transnational corporations’ strategies and the citizens’ expectations. As a result of the political ascendancy of financial institutions and transnational corporations, good governance turned out to be mainly based on macroeconomic stabilization and fiscal prudence. Under the expansion of monopoly- capital, in the context of financialization, greatest concerns have arisen, since energy policies and investments could pass down social and environmental safeguards. Decisions taken by private managers – strongly influenced by short- term returns– could turn out to challenge sustainable energy investment in the long-run. Assets, debts, price volatility, mergers and acquisitions overwhelmed investments in the energy industry and highlighted the tensions between the managers´ commitment to short-term returns and the long-run nature of investments in the energy sector.
In fact, social dynamics has been subordinated to the transnational and financial interests. In this interdependent global setting, the challenges and possibilities of “national policies” have turned out to be more complex.  The scenario of the COP 20 that is currently being held in Lima, Peru, certainly reflects these tensions.

Energy policies could play a decisive role to support sustainable economic growth since they were articulated to economic and social policies. Restructuring energy policies require comprehensive solutions in order to include issues related to regulation and labor markets, technology and innovation, governance and politics, in addition to the environment and climate change.

Another development is possible? The answer certainly requires an interdisciplinary approach to energy policies in any reform of the economics curriculum.

There is widespread agreement on the proposition that people act according to their self-interest. Marx went further to suggest that people subscribe to ideologies conforming to their class interests. For example, agricultural laborers would believe in land reforms, while big landlords would believe that small farms are inefficient. Gradually the weight of strong empirical evidence has led me to understanding that this proposition is false. Large segments of the population can be brought to believe in, and act according to, ideologies extremely harmful to their self interest. As Dani Rodrik has written in How the Rich Rule, political scientists Gilens & Page found that on issues where there was a conflict between the interest of the elite and that of the public, Congress voted in favor of the elite and against the public interest. In the past, the elites have enforced their interests by the use of power. In a democratic age, the same effect is achieved by the use of propaganda. This is striking because the propaganda must convince the public to act against their own self-interest, in favor of the ruling elites. It would seem that you can fool most of the people most of the time. Here is some empirical evidence for my thesis: Read More

           Modern financial institutions, instruments and their underlying philosophies clash with Islamic law in many areas. For some time, both critics and supporters have thought that these Islamic laws were in need of revision to bring them into conformity with the complexities of modern requirements of trade and industry. Critics have been content with ridiculing the “archaic” law. Supporters have made substantial efforts to provide “Islamic” equivalents of modern western financial institutions and instruments. Many have been uneasy with these efforts, which often seem pointlessly convoluted ways of imitating western ideas about finance. There is also the concern that Islamic laws are being stretched beyond the breaking point to accommodate western forms.
 
            The global financial crisis of 2008 has led to the radical realization that instead of being obstacles to progress, the Islamic laws provide barriers against financial disaster. Many western commentators have remarked that adherence to Islamic economic principles would have prevented this crisis. Challenges, a French magazine, went so far as to say that the 7th century text of the Quran offered better guidance than the Pope on financial matters. Read More

The effects of the current innovative technological environment for learning have been one of the contemporary academic concerns.  Considering this background, James Lang’s book Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty aims to highlight the deep threatens of our time to promote increasing learning.

Among other current learning tools, Lang underlines the challenges that emerge from the software Turnitin- an online technology that has been used for evaluating student learning. Its enormous database can compare a student’s text against over 45 billion web pages, more than 337 million student papers, and well over 100 million articles from academic books and publications.

Nowadays, as Lang notes, many institutions and faculty members rely on plagiarism detection softwares. However, as theorists of these programs warn,  these softwares do not catch plagiarists.  At this respect,  Sharon Flynn, the Assistant Director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the National University of Ireland-Galway, highlights that  Turnitin can only detect “matching text” and will not help teachers with “plagiarism of ideas”.

Lang’s proposal is that faculty members who choose to make use of Turnitin and its software equivalents should think of them in their teaching in order to answer the question: How can this tool help or hinder student learning?

For example, Lang suggests that teachers should:

1) Help students to better incorporate the words of others into their research or scholarly writing after using Turnitin’s originality reports for that purpose;

2) Project for students an unpublished piece of academic writing so as to underline the extent to which scholarship relies on direct quotations from the work of scholars in dialogue with the writer’s original interpretations;

3) Project for students selected originality reports written by them in order to improve the use of bibliographical references and quotations in scholarly writing.

Indeed, Lang’s research points out the relevance of course design and classroom practices so as to better motivate students to learn. For the author, simply improving the use of technological tools to “police” scholarly writing does nothing to actually improve student learning which should be the goal of education.

James Lang’s book Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty was published in 2013 by Harvard University Press. You can check more details on the book and other interesting related links at http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674724631

The Great Depression of 1929, and now the Great Recession following the Global Financial Crisis, poses several puzzles for economists. One is them is the sudden and severe drop in aggregate demand. This leads firms to curtail production, and therefore reduces demand for factors of production, most importantly labor. Why does aggregate demand fall, and why do not the price adjustment mechanisms restore equilibrium? The outstanding contribution of Atif Mian and Amir Sufi in House of Debt (see my Review & Summary) is to explain both why aggregate demand fell and also why the standard price adjustment mechanisms fail to restore equilibrium. The correct explanations have eluded famous economists like Keynes, Friedman, Lucas and many others . Only after understanding the reason for the shortfall in aggregate demand does it become possible to prescribe a remedy.

(see also discussion following repost on RWER Blog)
Read More

In 2011, Edward Fullbrook, writing on Toxic Textbooks, pointed out that “No discipline has ever experienced systemic failure on the scale that economics has today”. And added that the global financial crisis revealed that  “..we, the textbooks we use, and the courses that we teach harbour fundamental misconceptions about the way economies, most especially their markets, function” (http://ineteconomics.org/blog/inet/edward-fullbrook-toxic-textbooks).

Economics pedagogy is a starting point for both an analysis of the roots of the global financial crisis and of the challenges to how it might be made a facilitator of social justice. After the global crisis, Fullbrook suggests to rethink economics pedagogy taking into account “eleven ways to think like a post-crash economist”
1. Don’t try to pass yourself off as a kissing cousin of natural scientists.
2. Don’t speak, except to very small children, of invisible hands and magic.
3. When possible avoid the use of emotive words.
4. Remind yourself every morning that your duty as a teacher is to educate your students, not indoctrinate them.
5. Try to look at economic phenomena from different points of view and teach your students to do the same.
6. Encourage diversity of conceptual frameworks in economic research.
7. Don’t be condescending to your students.
8. Keep your eye on real-world economies rather than imaginary ones.
9. Don’t try to hide the troubled but fascinating history and contemporary diversity of economics from your students and the general public.
10. Avoid cranks and try to avoid becoming one yourself.
11. Never try to pass off ideology as objective truth.

Indeed, the importance of economics teaching is at the center of the new World Economics Association online platform for commentaries and discussion of standard introductory level textbooks, plus links to related resources. It can be accessed via:

http://www.worldeconomicsassociation.org/textbook-commentaries

In otther words, the World Economics Association’s Textbook Commentaries Project seeks to provide a platform for independent, inclusive, participatory enrichment of economics courses. The project certainly  aims to increase the influence of alternative and critical material to promote radical changes in economics education.
More project background details

http://www.worldeconomicsassociation.org/files/newsletter/Issue4-5.pdf

Download WEA newsletter Volume 4, Issue No. 5, October 2014

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