Economics Education

Commentary on "Thinking like an Economist?"

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Economics is a social science, not a lost branch of physics. The field of study of the economist is not, like that of the physicist in relation to the natural world, the foundation of society. It is just one, albeit important, dimension of human social interaction. The economy exists alongside and interpenetrated with the political and the social, in all their complexity. In some cases, the simplistic assumptions on which economics rests are good enough for the purposes of analysis. But at other times they are grossly inadequate or dangerously misleading. This important report demonstrates how far the study and teaching of economics, in its search for precision and tractability, sacrifices a deeper inquiry into what the subject is actually about.
Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator of The Financial Times

This report is a very careful and thoughtful analysis of economics education in the Netherlands. It tells us how Dutch economists are educated and why that matters for society as a whole, and not just for the academia. It shows how the existing economics education programmes in the Netherlands, like in most other countries, are theoretically and methodologically narrow, detached from the real world, and negligent of the broader social, political, and ethical issues. In criticising the status quo, however, the report is not denouncing it but proposing a pluralistic and realistic path towards reforming it. It is hard to believe that a report with this level of sophistication was written by students. With students like this, the future of economics in the Netherlands may be bright after all.
Ha-Joon Chang, University of Cambridge, author of 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism and Economics: The User's Guide

How can economists advocate free competition, but not practice this in the marketplace of ideas? This was central to the plea for pluralism that was published in the American Economic Review in 1992. And this remains relevant today, as illustrated by the report of Rethinking Economics. This is all the more timely in light of the need on the part of economics to draw lessons from the recent economic crisis. The report offers valuable recommendations for escaping the sub-optimal equilibrium in which much of the discipline finds itself.
Esther-Mirjam Sent, professor in Economic Theory and Policy at the Radboud University and member of the Senate for the PvdA

Rethinking Economics concludes for The Netherlands what we see around the (Western) world: Economics is based on a one-dimensional methodology of making ludicrous unworldly assumptions, apply math to that and think the resulting model, full of hilariously failing predictions, can be used to control the economic world. Disciplines like sociology, cognitive science, culture, anthropology, complexity and the history of economic thoughts are almost completely absent or taught in the periphery of neo-classical thinking. The consequence is that students are ill-prepared for their important tasks in society and often their fairy tale worldview causes more harm than good when used as basis for policy making or risk management. The researchers justly call for increasing diversity in theoretical approaches at universities and studying economics in a multi-disciplinary context. Equally justified is their call for the teaching of critical thinking and learn how to counter theoretical frameworks and have proper scientific debates. This research hopefully helps to move economics from the stage of "astrology" into a truly scientific approach.
Theo Kocken, professor of Risk Management, VU Amsterdam, CEO Cardano Group

The Rethinking Economics report reminds us that economics should be about solving real world economic problems. A more diverse theoretical approach, beyond the homo economicus of neoclassical economics, is needed to analyse the Sustainable Development Goals. A multidisciplinary approach combining the economic, social and environmental dimensions is very welcome.
Dirk Schoenmaker, professor of Banking & Finance, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Whatever the biggest economic crisis in generations may have changed, not the way we educate the economic students, as this extensive research unfortunately shows.
Rens van Tilburg, director of the Sustainable Finance Lab

This report is the first full comparative study of all Dutch economics curricula and it is as impressive as it is timely. As a society we send out every year 10.000s of economics (and business) students into the 'real world'. Our curricula should not brainwash them but challenge them to become critically, morally and socially engaged participants.
Govert Buijs, professor of Political Philosophy & Religion at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Dutch Commentary:

Deze degelijk onderbouwde studie laat zien dat het economie-onderwijs niet verder gaat dan het aanleren van een beperkte, kwantitatieve toolbox. En dat studenten en de samenleving beter onderwijs verdienen door een diversiteit aan theoretische benaderingen aan te bieden, een sterkere link met de echte wereld te maken en daarmee studenten een kritische blik aan te leren op de economie, economische analyses en economisch beleid.
Irene van Staveren, professor of pluralist development economics at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam

Studenten die meer doen dan het officiële programma voorschrijft en zich actief met de inhoud van hun opleiding bemoeien – wie wil dat niet?! Dit rapport is een welkom pleidooi van economiestudenten voor meer pluriformiteit in de theorieën en methodes die zij onderwezen krijgen, om hen beter voor te bereiden op de economie van (over)morgen.
Robert Went, senior researcher at the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy

Dit rapport gaat ons allemaal aan. Diverse transities haperen omdat het neoklassiek economisch denken domineert. Er is dan ook grote behoefte aan open-minded economen.
Jan Rotmans, professor of transitions and transition management at the Erasmus University Rotterdam

Een niet echt verrassende en toch een onthutsende studie van het economie onderwijs aan de Nederlandse universiteiten. Een bevestiging dat de huidige economische wetenschap het contact met de economische werkelijkheid kwijt is geraakt en irrelevant dreigt te worden.
Arjo Klamer, professor of cultural economics at the Erasmus University Rotterdam

 

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