Throwing his considerable weight behind the post-autistic economics movement, Robert Skidelsky offers a calm but blistering critique of the “mainstream economics” curriculum that has come to dominate university teaching. Arguing that mainstream economics, with its pseudo-scientific mathematical models, is at heart an “ideology of the free market” that can circumscribe thinking and excuse failed policies, Skidelsky argues that the context of economics teaching needs to be broadened to include history, philosophy, politics, and psychology — to reflect the true economic lives of people.
It has become an article of faith that any move toward a more open or “pluralist” approach to economics portends regression to “pre-scientific” modes of thought, just as the results of the European Parliament election threaten to revive a more primitive mode of politics. Yet institutions and ideologies cannot survive by mere incantation or reminders of past horrors. They have to address and account for the contemporary world of lived experience. For now, the best that curriculum reform can do is to remind students that economics is not a science like physics, and that it has a much richer history than is to be found in the standard textbooks.
I suspect that Skidelsky’s piece will provoke a productive debate. Brad Delong has already responded:
We have no business offering a narrow economics B.A. at all. At the undergraduate social-science level, the right way of organizing a major curriculum is to offer some flavor of history and moral philosophy: enough history that students are not ignorant, enough sociology and anthropology that students are not morons, and enough politics and philosophy that students are not fools. (And, I would say, a double dose of economics to ensure that majors understand what is key about our civilization and do not get the incidence of everything wrong.)
And here (pdf download) is the report of the Post-Crash Economics Society that spurred Skidelsky’s comments.