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University departments of economics are degraded to political propaganda centres.

Summary:
From Peter Soderbaum Climate change is perhaps the most threatening aspect of the ecological crisis but not the only one. Reduced biological diversity, reduced water availability and deteriorating water quality in some regions exemplify other relevant dimensions. On the financial side, the ‘market mechanism’ has been unable to come up to expectations. How can these problems be understood? Many factors have certainly contributed but in my judgment neoclassical economics as disciplinary paradigm and neo-liberalism as ideology are among the most important. If actors in society have failed, this can largely be attributed to the mental maps they have used for guidance and these mental maps are largely connected with dominant ideas about economics (as conceptual framework and ideology) and

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from Peter Soderbaum

Climate change is perhaps the most threatening aspect of the ecological crisis but not the only one. Reduced biological diversity, reduced water availability and deteriorating water quality in some regions exemplify other relevant dimensions. On the financial side, the ‘market mechanism’ has been unable to come up to expectations.

How can these problems be understood? Many factors have certainly contributed but in my judgment neoclassical economics as disciplinary paradigm and neo-liberalism as ideology are among the most important. If actors in society have failed, this can largely be attributed to the mental maps they have used for guidance and these mental maps are largely connected with dominant ideas about economics (as conceptual framework and ideology) and neo-liberalism as a dominant ideology in many circles. Thousands of students, now in professional positions, have learnt neoclassical micro- and macroeconomics over the years and have supported each other and been supported by their professors to further strengthen the neoclassical perspective.

Studying neoclassical economics would have been less of a problem if also alternative theoretical perspectives had been taught at university departments of economics. But the strategy has instead been to strengthen the neoclassical monopoly. It is up to the reader to judge whether neoclassical economics by itself and in combination with neo-liberalism explains some parts of the ecological and financial crisis that we now experience. Since neoclassical economics emphasizes the monetary dimension, one might expect that at least monetary issues are well considered in the paradigm but these days we even doubt if this is the case. Something may be missing in terms of interdisciplinary openings, including social psychology and also ethical considerations.

In any case, neoclassical economists in leading positions should be held responsible and accountable for limiting research and education to one paradigm. As I have argued previously, each paradigm is specific not only in scientific terms (with respect to conceptual framework and theory) but also in ideological terms. Limiting education in economics to one paradigm means that university departments of economics are degraded to political propaganda centres.

A way out of this is to admit that the political aspect is always part of economics and to use a political-economics approach when attempting to respond to the questions asked earlier in this article. Individuals, organizations, markets, decisions, efficiency, assessment of alternatives – all this can be approached in political economic terms.

A political economics approach means a more humble attitude to economics where it is understood and admitted from the very beginning that there are more than one approach to economics. Neoclassical economists have often used their power to eliminate competition concerning professional positions and to reduce choice for students. But outside university departments of economics, the interest in heterodox economics is proliferating. There are social economists, socio-economists, feministic economists, institutional economists, ecological economists, Green economists, even interdisciplinary economists, many of which are openly critical of the neoclassical paradigm.[1] For this reason, a pluralistic strategy at university departments of economics is the only realistic one. A move from neoclassical technocracy to a democratized economics is called for. Since neoclassical economists have become accustomed to their monopoly, such a change will not come about easily.

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