Taking the crash on board

May 8, 2014

I write in response to the article “Manchester students take on economics curriculum in report”, News, www.timeshighereducation.co.uk, 22 April, and from the vantage point of having just organised a conference with the Economic and Social Research Council at the University of Essex on “Diversity in macroeconomics: new perspectives from agent-based computational, complexity and behavioural economics”.

In 2012 at a similar conference, the ESRC with the Oxford Martin School urged that “action is taken to catalyse new approaches to macroeconomic questions and help develop the discipline’s responses, perhaps in partnership with other disciplines within or beyond social science”.

Like the University of Manchester Post-Crash Economics Society, the programme committee in 2014 noted that the mono-culture in established research and teaching of economics is also marked by its irrelevance to the post-2007 crisis period and a growing skills gap in dealing with “big data”, real-time systems and a largely protean and fast-evolving financial, monetary and industrial environment. In response to concerns of students on the lack of diversity in economics, the conference held a panel discussion that included two student representatives from the Essex and Cambridge PCESs.

Apropos the research excellence framework in the Manchester PCES Report, it is hoped that the “impact” criterion in the REF will counter the regimentation of academic economics where path-breaking monographs and books have given way to narrowly designated journal articles.

The clamour for change is coming from those at the coalface of policy, such as from central banks and the Treasury. UK academic economists have been slow to respond because under the iron rod of the REF, it involves a lot of personal risk to break away from the mainstream. At Essex, in a more benign period, I was able to develop a postgraduate research and teaching curriculum in economics (MSc Computational Economics, Financial Markets and Policy) that uses a non-mainstream complexity and heterogeneous agent-based approach. Sadly, I’m in a very small minority among economists.

Sheri Markose
Professor of economics
University of Essex

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Reader's comments (1)

The complete subject of macroeconomics should be revised and its various sub-subjects better defined. Today the main subject has been badly confused and it is very hard for students to get a good grasp of what is significant and what is outdated. Indeed they cannot find a means for developing good knowledge about this subject until they have completed the present courses and have a chance (as post graduate students) to review what has been thrown in their faces!) Not many of them have time nor inclination to follow this academically honest step. Between the experts themselves there is a great deal of disagreement too, but even this situation is unclear due to the variety of meanings being given or assumed for the same words. So my claim about confusion is doubly true. But all is not lost! In order to make some sense of this subject I have re-written the theoretical side of macroeconomics as if it were a logical, well-disciplined (almost engineering) science. (My book is titled: Consequential Macroeconomics--Rationalizing About Our Social System and How It Works) I would like to suggest that by starting again in my very serious and logical manner, with improved axioms, assumptions and definitions, is there any hope for our present batch of students to get a better understanding than those of the past, and for at last there to be use of terms and expressions that meet some kind of standard and accepted meaning. For a reviewer's non-commercial e-copy please write to me at: chesterdh@hotmail.com with a short explanation of why it is of interest to you.

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