A professor of economics has turned to crowdfunding to pay his salary because universities “no longer provide the time and freedom they once gave to original thinkers”.
Steve Keen, who is currently employed full time at Kingston University but expects to remain there next year on a quarter-time basis only, hopes to raise enough money via the Patreon website to enable him to continue his work as a public intellectual.
He is initially hoping to raise $10,000 (£8,232) a month, which he says would allow him to work full time on the third edition of his book, Debunking Economics, plus a series of papers, and to continue producing videos for his YouTube channel, which has more than 10,000 subscribers.
Writing on Patreon, Professor Keen complains that “almost all the money” for economics research continued to go towards “mainstream” theories, even though they had “failed so abjectly”.
Professor Keen says that he has been working to develop an “alternative, realistic” economics for 45 years, but had struggled to find funding.
“Universities have…been starved of research funding over the years, and buried under bureaucratic controls,” he writes. “They no longer provide the time and freedom they once gave to original thinkers like me.
“It’s so bad now that the best way for me to have the time and resources to build a new economics is to leave the university sector, and get supported directly by the public.”
Professor Keen is looking for individuals to become his patrons and pledge as little as $1 a month, for which they will get access to exclusive blog posts, videos and podcasts.
He is hoping to attract between 2,000 and 4,000 people willing to commit an average of $3 to $5 a month, in return for additional benefits, including access to lecture slides and e-books.
Rewards for larger contributions include an annual seminar for patrons prepared to pledge $1,000 a month or more, and naming rights for a research centre that would be established if anyone pledges $150,000 a month or more.
The appeal went live on 8 March and, as of 14 March, 164 patrons had collectively pledged $1,508 a month. If donations exceed the initial $10,000 monthly target, Professor Keen hopes to employ staff and to develop an online university of non-orthodox economics that he calls “Kore” (Keen Online Realistic Economics).
Professor Keen told Times Higher Education that his new initiative offered a welcome release from “the bureaucratic pressures which govern academic life” and, if sponsors come forward, should give him “the freedom to do real research”.
But it also responds to developments in both the academy as a whole, and economics as a discipline.
“If you go back 40 years, Cambridge had a range of economic perspectives being taught,” Professor Keen said. “Now students are only taught a single neoclassical paradigm. The most prestigious universities have been captured by the mainstream.
“If you publish in non-orthodox economics, you get taken up at the less prestigious institutions.”
External factors such as the removal of student number controls had led to reduced recruitment at these universities, and the consequent reduction in staff funding “massively reduces the diversity of thought in economics”, he said.
A Kingston spokeswoman said that Professor Keen's views were "about the funding of the university sector as a whole and the impact of government policy on that".