Saturday, 29 November 2014

Curriculum Reform at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey

A summary of the campaign to change the economics curriculum at Boğaziçi University

By Anil Askin and Serkant Adiguzel at the Boğaziçi Political Economy Society (BPES) –

In April 2013, BPES wrote a petition to be shared with economics students ( Since BPES did not have any chance to spread the news through internal email, they figured out another way: social media. Each class of economics students has a separate group on Facebook. In May 2013, BPES started joining those groups and shared the petition. This had two effects. Posting the petition created an opportunity to discuss some points with students at different phases in their study of economics. In other words, BPES had this great chance to witness various demands, concerns and criticisms, which indeed let BPES make concrete points afterwards. Second, BPES found social media an effective way to make contact with fellow students: social media was the right place to announce when and where BPES were going to meet on campus. BPES learned a lot from this form of campaigning, from those who did not intentionally and explicitly formulate their ideas around “pluralism”, “heterodoxy” or any well-defined concept in opposition to the mainstream economics. Discussing these ideas revealed a common and huge discontent with regard to economics teaching in general.

At the end of May 2013, BPES were ready to hand in hard copies of documents to the department. BPES also sent documents via email to all professors individually, right before the departmental meeting in June, which was closed to students. Then the process had begun. For one year, the department had tried to develop a different curriculum: even mainstream economists at Boğaziçi University were not happy with the way things were going. Although it was hard to say that students’ demands and the department’s projection were completely parallel to each other, the discontent was common.

The most important change towards pluralism in the undergraduate curriculum came with the new compulsory course called “Evolution of Economies and Economics”, which indeed was proposed in the petition: all the second year students now must take this course. Although the syllabus of the course is not prepared yet, BPES can say that students will be aware that what they learn is not the only way and there are other schools of thoughts in economics.

The new curriculum offers more selective courses ranging from feminist or institutional economics to Marxian economics. There were some restrictive electives before, mainly aiming to teach neoclassical theory at an advanced level such as advanced macroeconomics or advanced microeconomics. Students had to take these “restrictive elective” courses and they had no chance to take another course in lieu of these courses. Now, these courses are part of the elective course pool showing that the hierarchy between courses such as “gender and the economy” - which has been an elective course - and, say, advanced macroeconomics - which was a restrictive elective - has now vanished. The new pool consists of many courses from which students are free to choose. Hence, students have the chance to shape their interests and to be exposed to different schools.

A key part of criticism was the disconnection of courses and real life. BPES expect more real life examples in all courses so that students can truly understand the reflections of the theory in real life. Inclusion of real life examples requires greater student-teacher discussion in class. The changes that took place in undergraduate economics curriculum at Boğaziçi University are a big step forward.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Professor Steve Keen launches Rethinking Economics Kingston

Students at Kingston University kicked off a campaign for a new approach to economics with the successful launch of new society Rethinking Economics Kingston this week.

Almost 100 people squeezed in to hear Professor Steve Keen – newly appointed head of the School of Economics, Politics and History – launch the new society with a speech on what’s wrong with mainstream economics and how students should change it.

Professor Keen - author of Debunking Economics and well-known critic of mainstream economics – described how theories taught in most economic classes were unable to predict, understand or even take on board the recent financial crisis.

Keen set out his vision for Kingston’s economics department as a beacon for students interested in a vibrant, pluralist atmosphere for learning. He also described his own history of challenging the narrow academic approach to economics while still a student.

Manav Chaudhary from LSE’s Post Crash Economics Society described the rapid growth of the Rethinking Economics movement and the enthusiasm of students across the country in campaigning for better economics teaching.

Professor Keen said:

“Across the world, students are calling for realism in economics, and demanding to be taught all schools of thought, not just the dominant one that was caught completely unawares by the economic crisis. Most University departments are resisting this call—amazing in itself for a discipline that claims to be about markets, and in which the consumer is supposed to be king. Kingston is responding to this call. We are going to provide our students with a complete, honest, warts-and-all, introduction to all the strands of thinking in economics. I’m delighted that Kingston students have formed their own Rethinking Economics group, and I’d encourage students at other universities to do the same. Change in economics will only come from the young, and with pressure from the public for economics to be realistic.”

Kingston's Rethinking Economics group are on Facebook, and there's a video of the event.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Book Review Series: A Menagerie of Speculative Follies

Review of The Pit and the Pendulum: A Menagerie of Speculative Follies, by David Harding & James W. Holmes (Winton Ed.)

Reviewer: Vardhan Kapoor
The Pit and the Pendulum: A Menagerie of Speculative Follies is an ambitious work which covers 700 years of financial crises through the looking glass of waves of optimism and pessimism.  The global financial crisis triggered an array of literature on the history of finance including David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years and Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money. This addition to the literature is a welcome one, as it aims to break with some of the questionable assumptions that dog the academic discipline of economics and economic history.
The book analyses forty-six episodes of financial folly divided into seven eras, beginning with "Merchants, Kings and Projectors (1300-1700)" through "Napoleons, Titans and Pashans (1880-1900)" and finishing with "Yuppies, Tycoons & Quants (1985-2008)". The names of the themes reflect the erudite vivacity of the work, which includes an astounding amount of pertinent and symbolic art from the time of the events, as well as peppered insights from the academic literature.

The acquiescence of economic departments towards the validity of their methodology after the crash was a source of concern for the founders of Rethinking Economics. One of the most pervasive aspects of economics and economic history is its reliance on models that rely on a very particular sense of rational expectations as their starting premise. It is therefore very pleasing that, while pursuing detailed statistical analyses, David Harding’s explicitly aims to challenge the notion that markets are governed by an unalterable rationality: "Markets are human institutions, vital to progress, but they are not perfect. They reflect the humanity of their participants, and therefore we should neither worship nor despise them". This is an important nuance, one that some of the greatest economics minds have been quick to point it out; as Albert Hirschman said of Adam Smith, it wasn’t the government which he despised, but rather, their folly.

As a whole, the work proves extremely readable set of snapshots into instances of financial mania. There is a certain levity with respect to the suffering caused by the financial crashes through history; the narrative betrays a sense of wonder at the endless possibilities of market dynamics, but the book would benefit from having solutions to these issues. In a way, the lesson to take from it is that financial mania has a way of putting all of us under its spell. Ultimately the book succeeds in providing a scrumptious read.