Economic ideas rule the world. Elections are won and lost on the topic of ‘the economy’. Politics and policymaking are conducted in the language of economics. In short, economists are the predominant technocrats of our time.
But how are economists made? How do they, as economics students, learn to see the world? The Rethinking Economics student movement has done a comprehensive curriculum review of all undergraduate economics courses in the Netherlands. This website presents the results of that analysis.
This website also presents material, ideas, debate and inspiration to help open up academic economics education, and a discussion platform on how to best organize the education of new economists.
One theory has a near monopoly. 86.5% of theory courses are devoted to teaching neoclassical economics. No other approach is seriously treated. Each alternative receives less than 4% of teaching time.
Methods courses are only about numbers. They lack attention for structures, institutions, cultures, and networks. 98% of teaching time goes to quantitative research methods and math. Only 2% of time goes to qualitative methods.
staying safely inside the ivory tower
Most of the courses are purely theoretical. 75% of the weighted ECTSs of the courses lack any attention for real world economics. Only 2% of courses are fully devoted to understanding the real world.
The above figures are from the report Thinking like an economist?, which investigates all economics bachelor programs in the Netherlands (full details and results). See also the summary and our recommendations. Questions? See the F.A.Q..
Commentary on Thinking like an economist?
“Economics is a social science, not a lost branch of physics. 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
"How can economists advocate free competition, but not practice this in the marketplace of ideas? 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
At the heart of discussions about the economics curriculum lies a seemingly superfluous question: what should be the purpose of an academic economic education? Should it be to learn "thinking like an economist", a narrow but academically highly successful approach which has slowly come to dominate the economic discipline? Or should it be about understanding the economy, by approaching it from a variety of directions and getting into the actual economy? Or something else entirely?
See the discussion platform for the latest ideas and inspiration!
Discussion platform - latest contributions
So, where to start?