Introduction of my article “Challenging the Current Economics Curriculum: Creating Challengers and Change.” Chapter 2 of edited volume: “Challenging the Current Economics Curriculum” editors Maria Alejandra Madi and Jack Reardon
How does it happen that we have given our quiet assent to a situation where the richest 85 individuals have more money than the bottom 3.5 billion? Where vultures wait for starving children to die, while others eat luxurious meals on private resort islands? Where horrendous military and commercial crimes leading to deaths, misery, and deprivations of millions are routinely committed by highly educated men with multimillion dollar salaries in luxury corporate suites and government offices?
A core component of the answer to these critical questions is that we have been educated to believe that this is a normal state of affairs, which comes about through the operation of iron laws of economics. Economic theories currently being taught in universities all over the world are an essential pillar which sustains the economic system currently in operation. These theories state that we (human beings) are cold, callous, and calculating. Microeconomic theory says rational individuals are concerned only with their own consumption. They are callous; completely indifferent to the needs of others. They maximize, calculating personal benefits to the last penny. They are cold – their decisions are not swayed by emotions of any kind. All this theorizing is not without power – it creates the world we live in, and the rules we live by.
We have even been taught that laissez-faire automatically brings about the best possible outcomes. We are told that the rich are efficient wealth producers and deserve their wealth, just as the poor deserve their poverty. To create a labor market to sustain capitalist production processes, we have been trained to believe that our lives are for sale to the highest bidder.
Besides, we have been educated to believe that we are powerless to change things. We have been trained to laugh at the idea that human lives are infinitely precious. We have been made to forget that each moment of our lives is unique – each moment contains potentials which never existed before, and will never come into being again. Only by re-defining what is worth living for, and what is worth dying for, can we strike at the heart of the capitalist process of production.
When we talk about curriculum change, we are talking about creating new theoretical foundations to observe and intervene in the world we live in. This is not a project for the faint-of-heart, especially because the rich and powerful spend huge amounts of wealth and energy in preserving this status-quo, and resist efforts to change these social realities with all their might. The project of speaking truth to power is severely handicapped by our education which conditions our vision of the truth.Our theories of knowledge state that good and evil do not exist. We have been taught rules of intellectual discourse which forbid appeals to the heart and soul. We have thereby been deprived of our most powerful weapons in the eternal battle against evil. Modern education has turned us into soulless zombies, consumption and sex machines, human resources, and inputs into the production function for wealth. The vast majority of the populace has been paralyzed with poisonous ways of thinking, and the small minority which retains the capacity for thought and action has also been badly damaged by these same poisons.
Before talking about curriculum change, we must redeem our souls. How can this be done?The first step in curriculum change requires the creation of teachers who have a clear understanding of the challenge that we face. These teachers must de-program themselves to cleanse their hearts. Given that we battle against overwhelming odds, our teachers must be rocks of courage, fortitude, and stamina. Also essential is a sense of humor to enable us to laugh at the massive forces arrayed against us – without this, we would die of despair. Also required is a deep commitment to the cause, which is giving hope to and enriching the lives of billions living, entirely un-necessarily, in abject conditions. Our hearts must be full of compassion, and feel the sharp pangs of the pain felt by the parents who have to choose between buying expensive medicines for the sick child, or food for the family. We have to empower ourselves, and believe that we can make a difference.
The world we live in is constructed from structures of thought that we have internalized, far more than bricks and concrete. Unfortunately, many of these dominant structures are poisonous to our own happiness as well as general welfare of mankind. Changing our ways of thinking is not just a matter of reading and understanding. Rather, the process involves acquiring new ways of looking at the world and new tools for manipulating reality – eerily parallel to the taking of a reality pill in a popular movie. Healing ourselves requires time, effort and cooperation of like minded friends. A first step in creating a new curriculum must be detoxification of our own minds and hearts. In terms of the Gandhian precept, we have to ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’ This requires analyzing the nature of the toxins we have ingested, and their removal. Some of the broad areas which require work are listed below:
[For the full article, see pre-publication draft Chapter 2: Creating Challengers & Change of edited volume: “Challenging the Current Economics Curriculum” editors Maria Alejandra Madi and Jack Reardon]
Table of Contents (Section Headings:)
- Rethinking the human being: Redeeming the Heart and Soul 3
- Rethinking the Nature of Human Knowledge 5
- Goals and perspectives for human existence 6
- Rescuing Morality in Economics 7
- Overcoming Market Mentality 8
- The Metaphor of the Machine 10
- Conclusions 11