Reforming Economics: Pluralism is Not Enough

[Published at Real World Economics Review Blog, 5 Dec 14.]

Much of the current discussion of reforming economics focusses on the need for pluralism, particularly in teaching curricula.  Pluralist teaching is seen as challenging, because heterodox economic ideas are diverse, have little coherence, and are to a significant extent mutually incompatible.

This theme crops up frequently in discussions on RWER.  Now Cameron Murray, in the first issue of Inside, published by the Institute for Dynamic Economic Analysis, proposes to identify over-arching themes that can bring out the relationships among the various approaches.  This is commendable but it will not, on its own, result in a reformed economics.

I think the perceived difficulty of teaching heterodox economics comes from expecting too much from the exercise.  It will result in better-educated economists, and that is a very good thing.  Breaking the academic dominance of neoclassical economics would also be a very good thing.  However coherence in economics will not result from trimming and hammering existing fragmented ideas into a new box.

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Travelling, June-August

I’ll be travelling June-July-August, so I won’t be posting during that time.  I did put a couple of relevant recent posts at Better Nature.

We’ll be doing the Centre, Tanami, Kimberley, West and Nullarbor, including a couple of indigenous tours of Country.  Out of range a fair bit of the time, and deliberately reducing our connection with the world anyway.  So, we’ll see what the world looks like in three months – interesting times.

Sydney Launch, Gleebooks, 4 May

Sack the Economists will be launched by Professor Steve Keen, author of Debunking Economics and winner of the Revere Award for his clear warnings of the approaching Global Financial Crisis.

RSVP Gleebooks  or phone 02 9660 2333
Sunday, 4th May 2014, 3:30 for 4 pm, Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road, Glebe NSW.

The flier below can be downloaded here: LaunchAd&CoverGlee (pdf 300k), or as jpg from the image.  Please feel free to distribute it.

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Australia needs a new progressive party

[This article is posted at Independent Australia today.]

The Australian Labor Party needs major reform, even leader Bill Shorten thinks so.  But what constitutes “major” reform depends on who’s talking.  To Shorten it reportedly means you don’t have to be a union member to join Labor, and perhaps unions and factions will have a little less say in preselections.

A few weeks ago I suggested Labor ought to disavow the market-fundamentalist neoliberalism that has dominated Labor and most of the world for the past three decades, because neoliberalism has been the major cause of rising economic and political inequality, and it directly caused the Great Recession that still grips much of the world.  Not only does neoliberalism undermine Labor’s founding purpose, to stand up for ordinary people, but it is a baseless and discredited ideology, as I have explained in my book Sack the Economists, and it has brought the return of plutocracy and the new gilded age, as exhaustively documented by French economist Thomas Piketty.

Although I advocated reform of the ALP, I hold little hope it will happen.  Even where they are not overtly corrupt, Labor and too many unions are dominated by careerists whose only goal seems to be to acquire power for power’s sake.  Shorten’s incremental changes will not break the power of these people.  Indeed there seem to be few left in Labor who have not accommodated to the betrayal of Labor’s purpose.  (I hasten to add I am a supporter of unions in principle, but too many of them have also become ossified.)

Left to its own devices, the ALP is unlikely to fundamentally reform itself.  It would take someone at least of the stature of Gough Whitlam, and no such reformer is in evidence.  Therefore a different strategy is required.

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More Effective Remedies for Inequality than Piketty’s

[A new book by Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is drawing a lot of comment – here and here.  My own comment on it is now posted on Real World Economics Review blog.]

I have read only reviews of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, but clearly it is valuable for documenting the nature and history of inequality over the past century or three, and for highlighting the excessive political power that flows from super-wealth.  Yet he frames it in terms of capital and capitalism and, for all the quality of his diagnosis, his main prescription evidently is just to tax the wealthy, through income and inheritance taxes.

The trouble is, capital and capitalism are very ill-defined.  To speak of capitalism is to invite an un-constructive shouting match.  Capitalism has caused great harm to people and the world!  Yes but capitalism is what has made us rich!

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Canberra and Sydney Launches

A reminder of tomorrow’s launch in Canberra;  more details below.

Also note that the Sydney launch will be 4 May at Gleebooks, featuring Steve Keen.

Sydney, Sunday 4 May, 3:30 for 4

Book launched by well-known iconoclastic economist Professor Steve Keen
Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road Glebe NSW 2037 Sydney.
Free, but please register (link and more details to be added soon).

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Book launches

Several events will launch the hardcopy of Sack the Economists over the next few weeks.  Spread the word, come, meet, and buy a hardcopy.
It would be possible to do another event in Melbourne the evening of 26 March.  Anyone in Melbourne interested in setting one up at short notice?

Adelaide, Tuesday 25 March, 5:30 pm

Book launch
Ira Raymond room, Barr Smith Library, University of Adelaide
Sponsored by Economic Reform Australia

Melbourne, Thursday 27 March, 5:15 for 5:30 pm

Lecture
Offices of Randstad, 7th floor, North Tower, Rialto Buildings, corner of Collins and King Streets, Melbourne.
This is part of the Futures Forum series of the Futures Foundation.  Limited audience.  Bookings required.

Canberra, Thursday 3 April, 5:30 for 6 pm

Book launched by Professor Emeritus Bob Douglas, Director of Australia 21
Innovations Theatre, Eggleston Road, Australian National University

Sydney, Monday 7 April

Book launched by well-known iconoclastic economist Professor Steve Keen
Details to be announced

Countering neoliberalism: A new life for Labor?

[A variation of The Lost Left, published today at Independent Australia.]

The way forward for progressives is to argue against the self-serving neoliberal ideology of the fatcat and for prudent and sensible management of the markets, writes Dr Geoff Davies.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten saysLabor needs new policies.

He’s not wrong there.

For three decades, while Labor has focussed on being merely a slightly paler imitation of the Coalition, its membership has plummeted, inequality has risen, it has repeatedly capitulated to wealthy bullies and, it seems, there is no policy too degrading for it to adopt as it races the Coalition into the depths of fear and negativity.

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A Science of Economics?

[A longish post on my blog addresses confusion among economists as to what comprises science.  This is a more technical post, addressed to those interested in re-making the field of economics into something relevant, informed and capable of self-improvement.]

Debates about whether economics is or can ever be a science appear frequently on the Real World Economics blog, such as making economics a relevant science.  Perhaps more in the subsequent comments than in the articles themselves, there are some recurring confusions and misconceptions, such as whether mathematics should be involved, about what the role of mathematics might be, about “prediction” as a necessary part of a science, about the role of assumptions and approximations, about whether any study involving people can ever be a science and, fundamentally, about what science really is.

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