O prenovi študija ekonomije

Simon Wren-Lewis (Oxford) je skeptičen do navdušenosti nad dramatično prenovo študija ekonomije:

At its heart the critique is an appeal for plurality in economics. Rather than pretend that there is one right way to do economics (what the critique calls neoclassical), the critique says we should recognise that there are many alternative perspectives which have significant worth (and which therefore undergraduates should have significant exposure to). These alternative perspectives have become marginalised within economics over the last few decades, and the critique suggests that the financial crisis is evidence that this process should be reversed. This is not an unusual complaint, and I hear it frequently from those working in other social sciences.

Let me first say what I agree with here. Students should certainly be shown something of heterodox (non-mainstream) thought. I’d like to think that if we taught economics to undergraduates as a more problem solving discipline, with less emphasis on its axiomatic/deductive structure, that would become easier. We should certainly get more economic history in there, and again that would be easier with a problem solving approach.

What I disagree with strongly is that the current dominance of mainstream economics should be reversed, and that we should go back to ‘schools of thought’ economics. There are three reasons for this.

  • Of course mainstream theory can be conservative. It has been used by some to support a particular ideology. I complain a lot about both. But the most important reason mainstream economics has become dominant is not because of these things, but because it has proved far more useful than all of its heterodox alternatives put together. I agree with Roger Farmer here: economics is a science. Its response to data and events may be slow compared to the normal sciences, for obvious reasons, but it is progressive. I cannot see any fundamental barriers to its continuing development.
  • This is because mainstream economics can be remarkably flexible. One of the sad things about the way economics is often taught is that students do not see much of the interesting stuff that is going on in both micro and macro, and instead just learn what the discipline looked like 50 years ago.

None of this implies that there are not large gaps in the discipline, large elements that will not stand the test of time, and that there is much still to be done. But I agree with Diane Coyle (about economics, if not DSGE) that “the Naked Emperor needs to be reclothed rather than dethroned”. New ideas could perhaps come from heterodox thought, although I suspect that they are more likely to come from other social science disciplines. But they will be developed within the mainstream, leading to the evolution of mainstream thought. If students want to change the world, I think they are much more likely to do this by working within mainstream economics than heterodox thought.

Paul Krugman deli njegovo mnenje:

How should the crisis and the reemergence of very high income inequality affect how we do and teach economics? For sure, it says that we need to do a lot more history, including deep history. Events have also reflected very badly on the style of economics that prizes “microfoundations” based on ultra-rational behavior over evidence, and rules any kind of ad hockery out of bounds. But the heterodox want more than that; they want to interpret recent events as a refutation of the kind of economics Wren-Lewis, or Janet Yellen, or Larry Summers (as economist, not public official), or yours truly does. And that interpretation just doesn’t work. By all means, advance heterodox ideas if you believe they’re right. But don’t claim vindication from events that didn’t actually follow the script you wish they did.

Now, to be fair, there is a civil war within academic macroeconomics, and what I’m calling “mainstream” is the saltwater side of that civil war. But the critics want much more than to boost saltwater macro at the expense of the new classical guys — they want to drive people like me out of the temple, too. And the thing is that they want to do this even though, as Wren-Lewis says, Keynesian macro has actually performed very well since 2008.

What about the new respect given to heterodox thinkers like Minsky, and heterodox ideas like secular stagnation? I agree that mainstream economists didn’t pay enough attention to such people — way back, one of my principles for working in economics was “listen to the Gentiles.” But it’s hard to claim that such work is deeply incompatible with mainstream economics when Janet Yellen embraces Minsky and Larry Summers becomes a secular stagnationist.

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