I gave the talk below last Sunday at UWS’s Open Day, as an intoduction to economics for prospective university students. Preparing it made me reflect on the great good fortune I had to be appointed to UWS.
This might evoke a “Huh?” response from the usual suspects on such issues–why be pleased about being appointed to a second-rate University (and in an out-of-the-way place like Sydney to boot)? It’s because the Economics & Finance program at UWS has been almost unique amongst economics departments around the world in deliberately pursuing a “pluralist” approach to economics.
We decided a decade ago to teach a wide range of approaches to economics in the one department. So we have core subjects in Micro and Macro economics that teach the standard Neoclassical canon, subjects like Political Economy and my own major subject Behavioural Finance that provide a distinctly different analysis, the foundational subject History of Economic Thought (which I believe is vital for a proper understanding of economics today–and a major reason why so few economists really understand economic theory is that this subject has been abolished at almost all other universities around the world), and a range of subjects such as Government and the Economy where a non-standard approach is presented, along with conventional Neoclassical thought on the topic.
This could never have happened at an “Ivy League” University: the gatekeepers of the subject would have fought vigorously to undermine the program, which they would have seen as unprofessional–a topic covered at length in a (yes, I’m serious) Playboy article recently. That’s why places like UWS and the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC) are where non-Neoclassical work flourished over the last 20 years–the mainstream ignored us.
For me, it gave me an environment in which I could work on my dynamic approach to economics, and apply that knowledge in my lectures, with the backing of my Head of School. In other universities, I would not have had the opportunity. I doubt that I could have been as successful in developing my alternative approach if I hadn’t had four consecutive supportive Heads of School, and many colleagues who were also outside the mainstream themselves.
This is an important point here for students considering where they might study economics. Normally, the better the University, the better its academic programs will be. But in economics, often the better the University, the worse the economics program will be because it will teach Neoclassical economics to the exclusion of all other approaches.
Before the world hit the economic wall in 2007, only renegade economists like myself were aware of this, and students would happily sign up to “Ivy League” Universities in preference to out-of-the-way places like UWS and UMKC. Now that the global economy has fallen into the debt crisis that Hyman Minsky warned could happen in a deregulated economy, the gamble that our Departments took to not follow the beaten path is paying dividends–both to the academics and their students. You’ll get a broader, better education off the beaten track than you’ll get on it–and your instructors will include people like me who saw the financial crisis coming.