Draft Criteria for teaching economics from a pluralist perspective – for comment

These draft criteria are based on the online dialogue and zoom discussions. Each has 3 parts:

  • A broad principle based criterion to avoid being too prescriptive and limiting on innovation and practice;
  • The rationale for the choice; and
  • Some illustrations of what the application of the criterion might mean both in terms of what we might expect to see (✔ ) and not to see (×). We hope this serves to better explain the criterion in practice. We would expect some sort of body, with diverse representation, to make final assessments, but we will explore how this might work in further dialogues.

We would very much appreciate comments on them prior to creating a questionnaire to get wider responses to each criteria.

1. Recognition of the existence and potential value of a range of different perspectives from economics and other disciplines for understanding economic related issues.

Rationale: This is the core value of those who take a pluralist approach to understanding the economy.

Illustrations
✔ This pluralist and interdisciplinary perspective is explicitly set out as the context for the programme
✔ Reading lists include authors from different schools of thought in economics and from other disciplines.
× All approaches to understanding economic related issues are treated as equally valid in all circumstances (ie “anything goes”).
× The term ‘economics’ is used as if there was a unified single methodological approach to understanding economic related issues.
2. Incorporation of a reasonable breadth of perspectives into the curriculum with an expectation of at least three such perspectives.

Rationale: This is crucial to ensure pluralism is genuine and not tokenistic.

Illustrations
✔ Perspectives covered include equilibrium and non-equilibrium approaches, individualist and social assumptions and different ethical perspectives.
× All perspectives covered focus on individual decision making (e.g. neo-classical, game theory and behavioral economics) and ignore social dimensions.
× Perspectives are mostly taught in silos without identifying key interactions between them.

3. Economic perspectives are taught within a historical context exploring the interaction with economic, political and social history.

Rationale: This will ensure a broad overview of economic thinking including neo-classical thinking but always put in a wider context rather than being taught as a stand-alone objective science.

Illustrations
✔ Economic masters programmes include a required unit on the history of economic thought.
✔ Interdisciplinary masters programmes include in a required unit or units, an introductory session or sessions on the history of economic thought.
× Neo-classical economics is presented as an objective science that supersedes previous perspectives.

4. Economic perspectives taught include viewing economic systems as subsystems of ecological systems.

Rationale: Given the current ecological crisis, this should be an essential element of teaching.

Illustrations
✔ Ecological economics perspectives are included in required units within the programme.
× The environment is only treated as an input to and a sink for economic systems.

5. Teaching should embed discussion of theory in richly described real-world issues from diverse situations.

Rationale: Economics has sometimes fitted data, often of questionable quality, to theories.

Illustrations
✔ Teaching explores theories in the context of what evidence proves and disproves them including recognising where theories have been disproved or are tautologist.
✔ Emphasis is put more on inductive than deductive reasoning and in the latter case a range of starting assumptions are explored.
✔ Important links between economic, social and political spheres are not ignored (e.g. inequality or conditioning from advertising) and a systemic analytical approach is taken.
✔ Perspectives and issues from the North and South, and different races, social classes etc are included.
× Real world examples are chosen on the basis that they are the best fit to theories.

6. Teaching should explore and support understanding of the limitations and embedded values of a range of sources of evidence including but not limited to data

Rationale: Economics can a narrow range of evidence ignoring qualitative evidence and results from other disciplines. Data often has theories embedded in them.

Illustrations
✔ the definitions of key data, such as unemployment, GDP, price indices and poverty are discussed, and controversial aspects highlighted.
✔ Qualitative evidence is included as a valid source.
✔ Representations and interpretations of the economy are made explicit and questioned.
× Data is presented as if it is objective without any discussion of its sources or the underlying representations and interpretations.
× Qualitative evidence is ignored.
7. Teaching should promote active learning encouraging honest and open reflection on and critique of assumptions and values underlying different perspectives on economic issues (including the lecturer’s and students’)

Rationale: Critical awareness and creative development of economic perspectives are essential for economic learning both professionally and personally.

Illustrations
✔ Exploration of the implications of different objectives for economic policy (e.g. minimising environmental impacts vs maximising GDP vs promoting equality).
✔ Examining what policy directions emerge from using different economic perspectives to address real world issues.
✔ Engagement with the economic perspectives of diverse communities e.g. through placements in companies, NGOs and community groups.
✔ Exploration of the impact of background, influences and values on what economic perspectives individuals and groups take (e.g. the echo chamber effect).
✔ Include exercises to support reflection on the impact of different perspectives, biases and assumptions such as serious games and role playing.
✔ Support students to diversity the range of sources they use for learning and build their ability to learn to learn.
× Programmes only involve lecture programmes supporting passive learning.

8. The department(s) providing the programme(s) are committed to continue building their capacity and culture to support a pluralist approach to teaching about the economy.

Rationale: Pluralism and interdisciplinarity practice requires ongoing development and support

Illustrations
✔ Departments have a professional development programme to support pluralism and interdisciplinarity.
✔ Departments have a recruitment strategy to build the range of their expertise.
✔ Departments encourage interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary dialogues building relationships across departments and with communities outside the university.
× Departments are only focused on their own discipline’s research.

So are any criteria missing? Could we word them better? Can you think of better illustrations…..? Add you thoughts below.

21 responses to “Draft Criteria for teaching economics from a pluralist perspective – for comment

  1. I see that the other subject to which you give attention is about teaching economics at a pluralistic level. I suggest that a suitable frame-work should first be established so that the students can see in the most general terms about of what the subject consists.

    In the short working paper SSRN 2600103 ” A Mechanical Model for Teaching Macroeconomics” (available through the internet), such a general means is provided for introducing students to the subject, and in particular to get them to think about how our social system works.

      1. The historical thought framework is an example of how to widen the student’s knowledge, but it does not cover all of the actual situation that should be faced, when a student wants to know how our macroeconomics system actually works. I refer to my previous reference, which should help in resolving this matter.

  2. To #5, I would add the words in CAPS: “✔ Important links between economic, social, political AND ECOLOGICAL spheres are not ignored (e.g. inequality or conditioning from advertising) and a systemic analytical approach is taken.

    and ✔ Perspectives and issues from the North and South, and FROM different races, social classes AND ECOLOGICAL REALITIES etc are included.

    Concerning RATIONALES: I suggest that each rationale should take the form of a “This is.. or “This will.” sentence, for consistency as in the first two. The rationale in #6 is missing some words, and is therefore confusing.

    In #7, there’s a typo: ✔ Support students to DIVERSIFY the range of sources they use

    In #7 I might add: Include historical understanding about paradigm shifts, and their relevance to the evolution of economic thought.

    In #8, I would add: “✔ Departments encourage greater gender diversity, to overcome the historical bias towards men.

  3. You’ve said “Perspectives and issues from the North and South, and different races, social classes etc are included.” You need to include gender/feminism.
    Also you haven’t said anything specifically about unpaid work, needs to be named as an issue

  4. Economics is not a science – despite using mathematics to explore change etc -rather a lens through which to gain insight into how things work. Thus we need to be sure we have the right lens for all circumstances or we need to have different lenses through which to examine change.

      1. Economics is a science, or rather a number of them that deal with its different aspects. As soon as one begins to categorize and describe the specifics, one introduces logical scientific techniques. Otherwise our subject remains in the same messy confusion, that we previously began to realize needs some improvement.

        1. I am not sure what it means to say it is a science. It is clearly a social science and surely it differs significantly from a natural science. For a start it has a very important normative dimension and any propositions it produces about the future, effects the future as others react to them. The whole point of a pluralist approach is to recognise this and that the normative will always and rightly be contested with no ‘right’ answer.

  5. I think the criteria are rather well-developed and explained. I do think however there should be two further criteria (Or some modification of the existing that incorporates these points in a frontal manner

    (1) I think an ethical perspective is a requirement. Students need to be introduced to the ethical consequences of economic advice and decisions. DeMartino’s ‘I solemnly swear’ has an excellent discussion of this and a historic victory was made when the AEA (after a hundred years) finally adopted a code of ethics.

    The connection to pluralism is straightforward: pluralism is an ethical duty. There are several reasons but top of the list is that it means the recipient (or victim) of economic advice is given the right to understand the different possible choices instead of being told it is the only ‘technically’ correct solution.

    I would see this as the part of ‘curriculum design’ that is normally termed ‘the rationale’.

    (2) I think something has to be said about assessment. Basically, to be harsh, students who respond to exam questions monotheoretically should fail. And students who manifest high competence in pluralism should get extra grades.

    Those are the ‘major’ suggested changes. As regards the ‘theory-laden’ aspects of data, which are important I think ‘Data pluralism’ should be explicitly required. This simply means that the economist must consider whether she would reach different conclusions if she interpreted the data differently. An example is the World Inequality Database who propose that GNI is a better measure of inequality than GDP. So if a student is looking at the question of inequality, should they measure it using traditional GDP or GNI? The answer is ‘both’. If both measures lead to the same conclusion then that conclusions robust. If they lead to a different conclusion, the student needs to make a stab at explaining why the results differ and, if she makes a choice to opt for one measure in preference to the other, give a reason for doing it.

    Best
    Alan

  6. On criterion 1:
    I think we need to say at the very beginning (= crit. 1) that such pluralism is an epistemological device of cognition of the real world.

    on criterion 2:
    re. game theory — don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: when you refer to GT, you obviously just refer to very standard forms and interpretations, rather than to evolutionary forms and institutional embeddings of GT.

    on criterion 3:
    we need to clarify that we need both socio-economic history a n d HET for contextualizing. it’s not quite clear so far, where you speak on which one.

    on criterion 4:
    perhaps we use the conception (the term) of “open systems”: economies are open systems as parts of the broader entire socio-economic-ecological system, and interacting with the social and ecological system in non-trivial ways.

    on criterion 5:
    i would not prefer inductive over deductive. both should be treated equallly for cognition. their interaction is what pushes recognition.
    mentioning the systemic approach should be a separate criterion, perhaps on ontology: “systems” to be introduced as part of clarifying the ontological basis.
    the same applies to the idea already included here, but explained later: “Heterogeneity” or “diversity” (of agents).

    on criterion 6:
    as there is no theory-independent measuring, we should apply the concept of PARADIGMS rather than analytical “theories”. those are not so easily “compared”, as they often are incommensurable, focussing on different aspects and angles of the real world.

  7. I’m generally happy with the main content (plus many of the comments), which seems to cover the key components pretty well. However, I wonder at the different approaches to the formulation of the principles: 1 and 2 are more like statements; 3, 4 and 8 are affirmative sentences; and 5, 6 and 7 are ‘should’ sentences. I would suggest all are rephrased like 3, 4 and 8.

  8. Well, economic pluralism must include, which it currently lacks overall, an emphasis on scientific (physics) measurement. Economics is still an immature science (bold statement), well such is well know in the physics departments across the globe, due to it’s lack of an invariable value.

    Secondly, an emphasis on its epistemological diversity which is currently settled upon two or possibly three.

    Lastly, a more thorough understanding the historical, current, and developing modes of finance. Whereas the some mechanism of finance are available which economists don’t know and thus don’t prescribe solutions tailored to specific practical policies which can be implemented in today’s economy.

    Humbly,

    1. Thanks, Aaron. Could you indicate how you might change the criteria for teaching above? I also wonder as economics is a social science, how it should be like physics, a natural science. Kind regards Henry

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