Economics textbooks

Hello All

I am enjoying engaging in dialogue and it is reassuring to know that there are like-minded individuals interested in reforming and reconceptualizing economics and economics education. No one individual can tackle this alone. I strongly feel that what is much needed is a systematic effort by all of us to write and publish economics textbooks from a pluralist, heterodox point of view that enlarges the vision of students and educates rather than proseyltizes.

Here is an excert from my foreword in a recent issue of the International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education, 

“Probably the most damming criticism of neoclassical economic education is the publication of the book The Economics Anti-Textbook – A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Microeconomics (Rod Hill and Tony Myatt, 2010). The book’s title acutely underscores the problem: students need a book – an anti-text – not as a helpful guide in learning complex material but to unlearn what is written in their texts, so that they “can begin to think critically about what they read in their textbooks, to defend themselves against the unconscious acceptance of ideology” [Hill and Myatt, (2010), p.2]. Their objective is “not so much to claim that this ideology is wrong, but simply to point out that it exists, and that there are always alternative views that one ought to consider” [Hill and Myatt, (2010), p.1].

What does such  a book say about economics? I do not know of any other field where such a book is written!  

Jack

 

 

 

 

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9 comments
  1. If you cannot discuss an economic issue, or argue for or against an issue, without using the conclusions from some model, then you are arguing from ideology. Some code terms that I run across are things like “upsetting market efficiency”; “loss of confidence in the markets”; and especially “it is a mathematical fact” because of some conclusion from the IS/LM model.

    I have an idea for a simple tax code change that I think would work (“simple” as in not complicating the already complicated tax code and being easy to understand). I have shown how my plan could create incentives for fewer and less severe recessions; livable wages; lower transfer payments; a decrease in the wealth gap; an increase in economic demand; a decrease in the trade deficit and a decrease in the budget deficit. At the same time, it would mean not having to rely on the party in power’s pet ideologies to work in the real world. I have shared this idea with many others. I received some modest support, but mostly without comment. I received zero negative comments. I then submitted my idea to a few key members of Congress, from both parties, and got no feedback either way. My submissions were in a form of communication that these people are known to always respond to. But in this case, nobody from either party responded. Nobody said they liked it; nobody said they didn’t like it. I took this as a possible example of incumbents choosing partisanship over solutions that might disprove party talking points.

    I’m not going to be satisfied with just thinking that my ideas would work. I got no negative feedback, but I also didn’t get anybody to go into detail why they supported it either. So under the assumption, which I still have, that perhaps there is some real world economic (as opposed to political) reason why my idea is a bad one and I haven’t seen that reason yet, I asked again for feedback. I got one response, from an economics professor at Iowa State University, whose criticism was based completely on the concept that my idea would upset economic efficiency. As in, our current situation and policy is so efficient that any alterations would be harmful. He cited a couple of economic principles about the purpose of taxation. I responded that he seemed to be arguing from a standpoint that the “before” of my idea was efficient, and that I was arguing that it was inefficient. His response to that was an insult that he was appalled that I was arguing against the efficiency of the marketplace.

  2. Hello Jack, I have short book MS that gets to the point (referring to mainstream economics): Sack the Economists and Disband Their Departments. (Instead have Depts of Political Economy or whatever). I’m planning to launch it as an ebook soonish, and I want comments/endorsements.

    I’m a geophysicist of international distinction who’s been digging into economics for 15 years or so, two other books already. Pseudo-science is all I can call neoclassical theory, clearly irrelevant to real (far-from-equlibrium) economies. Other fatal flaws too: counting the wrong things, not understanding money, not counting wealth from contiguous developments, etc etc. See part of the Intro chapter here: http://betternature.wordpress.com/2013/06/29/sack-the-economists/, and other stuff about me on that site.

    The book is written for a general audience, including policy wonks, and would also be great to inoculate students against the bullshit.

    I’d love to hear from you and would be happy to send the MS. geoffd (at) netspeed.com.au

    • I am so sorry for the delayed reply.

      I like the idea of your book very much. I’ve always argued that we should resuscitate the much older and more pluralist political economy. Steve Keen in his book Debunking Economics made a cogent argument that there is very little, if any, substance in economics; Myatt and Hill in The Anti-Textbook made an equally strong case for the mendacious and tendentious nature of economics textbooks. Take the two books together and one seriously wonders why economics is still taught in its current form. The answer of course is the significant obstacles and vested interests.

      As a former physics major mayself- I swtiched to economics at ean eaarly stage and was shocked at what I found. Part of the problem is that economics never borrowed/incorporated/emulated quantum and particle physics. Instead economics chose the relatively safe haven of Newtonian physics. I have often wondered what a new political economy would look look like based on 21st century physics instead of 18th century physics? Yes i understand institutionalists espousal of the biological metaphor, but a radical reconceptualization of economics into political economy could come from an emulation of of modern physics. As a geophysicist, any thoughts? Is this efficacious to move economics into political economy?

      Best
      Jack

  3. Excellent idea. I think a heterodox economics textbook is solely needed and would be a great addition to the field. I would love to help in anyway I could, though I have only just finished my degree (graduation next month) before I start my Masters. Also, the Economics Anti-Textbook is a fantastic book. Good luck with your efforts.

    • Hello Robert

      There are many of us writing heterodox textbooks, although I prefer the term orthodox. Our goal should be to write a PE textbook in every traditional field of economics and at every level, while also developing our own new fields and subdisciplines.

      Best

      Jack

  4. Hello Jack Reardon and other writers,

    I have been reading many of the posts on this site with several quests in mind, one of which is finding a recommendation for a basic economics textbook to use in a university class of 2nd year journalism students. I imagine this request is archaic in some respect, juxtaposed with the necessary rethinking of economics from A to Z, however, it is surely to be a much sought-after item given that many people must teach basic economic definitions all the time in many different contexts.

    I searched and searched for a “decent” textbook or beginners book for university students, or anyone for that matter, and found such heavy handed and antiquated writing that I gave up and had the students research and define basic economic terminology themselves. The director of the department didn’t like that very much and is requiring me to use a book next semester.

    I have no idea where to find one. So, I am calling out, perhaps to no one and in the dark as this thread is from days past, nay, years…. If anyone out there can offer up a suggestion I would greatly appreciate it. As the critical revolution and rewriting of economics gets into full swing, what basic textbooks do we use when we are obliged to use one meanwhile back at the ranch (read: university)?

    Thank you for your help.

    Jenifer

    • Hello Jennifer

      Thanks for your email. As a physics major who switched to economics as an undergraduate I was amazed at the backwardness of economics: over-emphasis on quaint deductive models, lack of realism, emulating 19th century physics, while ignoring everything that came later, etc., etc. I also remember reading my first Econ textbook, and struggling to finish the opening chapter– not becasue it was complex, or overly mathematical; quite the contrary, it was too simplistic and overly dull, and didn’t address the actual economy! Imagaine a physics text that didn’t address the physical world!

      Global movements have arisen to reconceptualize, revolutionize, and revise economics, but this movement, ongoing for some time now, has not made it into Econ textbooks.
      So we decided to write our own textbook. Maria Madi (from Brazil, and co-editor of this Blog), Molly Scott Cato (from the UK, and elected rep of the EU) and myself (founding editor of the International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education), decided to write our own principles of economics textbook. It is titled, Introducing a New Economics: Pluralist, Sustainable, and Progressive. It is the only pluralist textbook and the only one to also emphasize sustainability. We believe it educates rather than prosyltizes. It is published by Pluto Press (London) and will be available by August 2015; it is currently listed on Amzaon so you can check us out.

      Forgive me for this self-plugging, but we wrote the text precisely to provdie a ‘decent’ text that isn’t dogmatic, overly-deductive, archaic or heavy-handed.

      If you have any questions, or would like more information about the book, please let me know.

      Best

      Jack Reardon

      • Thank you for the quick and helpful response. I will take a look at it right now and purchase it for myself when it’s available. Congratulations!

        I start class in Feb., and I’m bookless. If you were to teach a basic course so that journalism students could be able to recognise, work with, use and build on basic economic terminology at a conservativish private university (I am working in Spain by the way) — what do you think is the best book out there? Even if I have to deconstruct it a little as we work through the terms. I would be happy with a very basic economics encyclopedia. I can get critical with my students, and they can be very critical thinkers as are most people given the chance, I just have to have a book to begin with and I feel like I would be teaching June Cleaver economics to the Beav with the books I have reviewed thus far. Perhaps there is no alternative, but there must be something, albeit imperfect, but with a tad less of the overacted ideological charade. Just a tad less, for now…would be fine.

        I really liked what you say in one of your earlier posts about asking students to use a 19th century map to explore 21st century problems. We are all map makers, indeed. Whether we know it or not.

        Thanks again for your help and I look forward to reading your book.

        Saludos,

        Jenifer

  5. Hi Jenifer

    It is interesting that all neoclassical books are highly ideological despite their opening exhortation otherwise.

    As far as other books that are out there now, I would recommend Frank Stilwell’s Political Economy, which we view as a compliment to our text; and Irene van Staveren’s principles text on economics from a pluralist perspective, published by Routledge.(I’m not sure the exact title).

    I feel that within the next few years a plethora of pluralist books at all levels of economics will be published,and I look forward to it! All of us in the pluralist/realworld economics community want to reconceptualize economics so that it educates students rather than proselytizes, and we need a thorough revamping of textbooks.

    One of the best essays on principles books was Edward Fullbrook’s “The Meltdown and Economics Textbooks,” which every teacher of economics should read. He ends his essay with a most helpful, “Eleven ways to think like a post-crash economist.” The essay is part of my broader collection, The Handbook of Pluralist Econmics Education (Routledge 2009), with helpful chapters on the Principles Course by Julie Nelson, and how to include time in principles courses, by David Wheat.

    Yes, I like the map analogy– I feel neoclassical economics is worse than no map at all.

    Please let me know how else I can help.

    All the best Jenifer

    Jack

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