Have economists changed since the 2008 crash?

Cédric Durand Prof of economics at the University of Paris says some progress has been made but long way to go: 

Economists are not innocent people. The 2007-08 financial crisis that almost sent the world economy into a great depression was, to a large extent, a consequence of the designs dreamt up by leading economists. This raises three concerns about the economics profession. The first is a basic moral failure resulting from a lack of integrity in some of its prominent representatives; the second is the idiotic collective fascination with the technicalities of the discipline, reinforced by an inclination for group-thinking; the third is a deeper, intellectual challenge that questions the very role economics ought to play in society.

In 1971, neoliberal icon Milton Friedman was paid by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for a report that decisively tilted the balance in favour of opening a market that allowed betting on the variation of currency values – a kind of financial product that was illegal under the strict regulation imposed in the post-war era. Ever since, studies by economists have played a legitimating role in each phase of finance’s liberalization. This close connection was not without its ethical problems. Take the lesson learned from Charles Ferguson’s documentary Inside Job (2010). This notes that Larry Summers – former Harvard president, Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration and an adviser to President Obama – untiringly defended financial liberalization throughout the 2000s, a period in which his ties with the industry brought him more than $20 million. In the wake of the financial crisis, a study of 19 eminent financial economic specialists showed that, in addition to their university posts, most had affiliations with the private sector that were not publicly disclosed.

On this front, some progress has been made. The American Economic Association has set up a new disclosure policy stating that authors submitting papers to academic journals should identify each interested party from whom they have received at least $10,000 in the past three years. Moreover, it calls for disclosure during media appearances. Professor Gerald Epstein, who was at the forefront of this battle, calls the change ‘a very big step forward’. He particularly stresses that disclosure in non-academic work could help ‘set norms of behavior that colleagues, the press, students and citizens can help make economists accountable to’.

Another, more mildly positive, evolution concerns the content of economic curriculain universities. Academic thought influences political decisions; or, as JM Keynes memorably put it: ‘Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.’ In the realm of university teaching there has, during the past few decades, been a growing fascination with the technical sophistication of analyzing abstract dynamics of markets at the expense of thinking about economic history and institutions. This created an intellectual climate favorable to opening a Pandora’s box of financial ‘innovation’ during the neoliberal era. It supported the comforting view that by spreading the risk, complex products – like the subprime mortgages that were sold to low-income Americans and then bundled up to be sold to institutional investors like pensions funds – were reducing financial instability. Of course, as it should be clear now, it was the exact opposite.

In 2014, the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics sounded the alarm: ‘A lack of intellectual diversity,’ they claimed, ‘does not only restrain education and research. It limits our ability to contend with the multidimensional challenges of the 21st century – from financial stability, to food security and climate change.’ They call for bringing the real world into the classroom through paying greater attention to economic history and developing a deeper dialogue with other social sciences. They also demand a greater diversity of theoretical perspectives by adding post-Keynesian, ecological, feminist, Marxist and other economic traditions to the commonly taught ‘neoclassical’ approach. Thanks to student pressure, some openings have been made. For example, CORE, a new open-access online syllabus funded by the Institute for New Economic Thinking, is introducing some elements of intellectual variety into the economics departments of tens of leading universities.

Hmmm..

More in the piece..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: