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Rebellious economics students have a point


In case you missed it—and you probably did—there’s a revolt afoot in the universities. It’s not exactly Paris, 1968, but there is a significant, if small, movement, extending from New York and London to Rome and Tel Aviv, that’s determined to change the way economics is taught.

Echoing complaints that have been mounting in the economics world for at least twenty years, and which became louder after the financial crisis of 2008, the student rebellion is calling for a more pluralistic and diverse approach, rejecting the textbook methodology that all too often reduces economics to a set of mathematical exercises. “The real world should be brought back into the classroom, as well as debate and a pluralism of theories and methods,” a group called the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics said, in an open letter that was posted online last week. “This will help renew the discipline and ultimately create a space in which solutions to society’s problems can be generated. United across borders, we call for a change of course.”

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The protest group consists of more than forty associations of economics students from nineteen countries. Obviously, they represent only a tiny proportion of the over-all student body studying economics. But the group’s emergence reflects some concerns about the subject that have deep roots, and that many professional economists privately share. Back in 1996, I wrote a piece for the magazine entitled “The Decline of Economics,” in which I quoted a number of economists at big firms and business groups who complained that many of the economics graduates they hired, although technically proficient, had little knowledge of the actual workings of the economy. Over the years, this grousing has only increased. Particularly at the graduate level, economics students are obliged to spend so much time learning the relevant mathematical techniques and theories that they largely ignore economic history and economic organization.

In his book “Capital in the Twenty-first Century,” which I reviewed in March, Thomas Piketty, the economist of the moment, writes that after he obtained an economics doctorate, and spent several years teaching at M.I.T., “I was only too aware of the fact that I knew nothing about the world’s economic problems.” Piketty goes on, “To put it bluntly, the discipline of economics has to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences.”

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Tratto da www.newyorker.com