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Reforming economics

Summary:
The typical economics course starts with the study of how rational agents interact in frictionless markets, producing an outcome that is best for everyone. Only later does it cover those wrinkles and perversities that characterise real economic behaviour, such as anti-competitive practices or unstable financial markets. As students advance, there is a growing bias towards mathematical elegance. When the uglier real world intrudes, it only prompts the question: this is all very well in practice but how does it work in theory? … Fortunately, the steps needed to bring economics teaching into the real world do not require the invention of anything new or exotic. The curriculum should embrace economic history and pay more attention to unorthodox thinkers such as Joseph

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Reforming economicsThe typical economics course starts with the study of how rational agents interact in frictionless markets, producing an outcome that is best for everyone. Only later does it cover those wrinkles and perversities that characterise real economic behaviour, such as anti-competitive practices or unstable financial markets. As students advance, there is a growing bias towards mathematical elegance. When the uglier real world intrudes, it only prompts the question: this is all very well in practice but how does it work in theory? …

Fortunately, the steps needed to bring economics teaching into the real world do not require the invention of anything new or exotic. The curriculum should embrace economic history and pay more attention to unorthodox thinkers such as Joseph Schumpeter, Friedrich Hayek and — yes — even Karl Marx. Faculties need to restore links with other fields such as psychology and anthropology, whose insights can explain phenomena that economics cannot. Economics professors should make the study of imperfect competition — and of how people act in conditions of uncertainty — the starting point of courses, not an afterthought. …

Economics should not be taught as if it were about the discovery of timeless laws. Those who champion the discipline must remember that, at its core, it is about human behaviour, with all the messiness and disorder that this implies.

Financial Times

Lars Pålsson Syll
Professor at Malmö University. Primary research interest - the philosophy, history and methodology of economics.

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