Friday, February 1, 2013

Teaching Economics

This week I reviewed Meme Wars: The Creative Destruction of Neoclassical Economics (edited by Kalle Lasn and Adbusters) for the LSE Review of Books. (You can read the full review here). Meme Wars styles itself as an alternative ‘Econ 101′ textbook and the core of the book is a collection of short essays that question the ideas and teaching of mainstream, neoclassical economics. Its radical approach (in both design and content) might be off-putting to some, but I'd recommend it - both for experienced economists, as a challenge to think more broadly about underlying assumptions and fundamental questions about the purpose of the discipline - and especially for those who are new to economics, as an introduction to some alternative ways of thinking about the economy. 

While many of the criticisms raised here are already gaining traction within the discipline, for example through the emerging paradigms of ecological, behavioural and complexity economics, Meme Wars is right in complaining that these developments are generally not reflected in the economics taught to undergraduate students. A recent paper (available here) that tracks changes in the content of the bestselling introductory economics textbooks since the onset of the global financial crisis, would appear to confirm this view, i.e. little has changed.

However, that is not to say that 'mainstream' voices in economics are not willing to challenge the status quo. Meme Wars contains contributions from the likes of Joe Stiglitz and George Akerlof, among others. I also recently came across a collection of essays titled What's the Use of Economics? Teaching the Dismal Science After the Crisis edited by Diane Coyle (see here for details), which includes contributions from numerous established names in economics.

The currents of change and debate within economics make this an exciting time to be a part of the discipline. It would be a shame not to share this excitement with those being introduced to the subject for the first time.

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