Unless you’re involved in the profession, you may have missed the little rumble of discontent from economics students last month. Disappointed that their professors continue to teach economics from a single perspective, economics students from around the world published an open letter online as a call for pluralism:
Theoretical pluralism emphasizes the need to broaden the range of schools of thought represented in the curricula. It is not the particulars of any economic tradition we object to. Pluralism is not about choosing sides, but about encouraging intellectually rich debate and learning to critically contrast ideas. Where other disciplines embrace diversity and teach competing theories even when they are mutually incompatible, economics is often presented as a unified body of knowledge.
If you study psychology, one of the first things covered is the various perspectives – cognitive, psychoanalytic, and so on – and what their contributions and uses are. That doesn’t generally happen in economics, at least not in the US, and students have been complaining about it for years.
This week I’ve been reading Ha-Joon Chang’s new book, Economics: The User’s Guide, and he makes a similar appeal for plurality as the students in their letter. A chapter of the book is dedicated to introducing nine different schools of economics, and he suggests they should be mixed like cocktails, using their various insights to get a fuller picture of a particular problem. He even suggests some mixes. To understand “why corporations exists and how they work”, for example, try Schumpeterian, Institutionalist and Behaviourist perspectives.
Of the nine that he lists, Chang insists that “none of these schools can claim superiority over others and still less a monopoly on truth… Each theory possesses particular strengths and weaknesses, depending on what it highlights or ignores, how it conceptualizes things and how it analyzes relationships between them.”