As an academic economist I find I am living in interesting times. Yes, really. The profession is in crisis, and much blame is being laid at the door of those who teach politicians how the economy works, and who engage in research to support this teaching. The fact that the financial crisis was predicted only by dissident economists, and the lamentable failure of mainstream economists to explain what has happened, much less provide solutions, has led to severe criticism.
Now we have a box-office documentary, Inside Job, which provides a comprehensible analysis of how the financial crisis happened, and fully implicates the academic economists who were complicit in the bankster capitalism that lay at its heart. Apparently they were asked for interviews to consult their expertise, and then ambushed. According to a review of the film by the Guardian:
‘When Glenn Hubbard, George Bush’s chief economic adviser and dean of Columbia Business School, is shown as a partisan advocate of deregulation, we have one of the movie’s punch-the-air moments. During the interview, Hubbard, who denies he was corrupted by his paid-for relationships with government, angrily barks: “You’ve got five minutes, mister. Give it your best shot.”‘
A letter in response also implicates the ‘self-referential circulation of authority’ found in the peer-review publication system. This gives access to promotion, fame and respect within the academic establishment and is a key part of the Research Excellence Framework, here retitled the ‘Research Exalting Finance’. Those wishing to find other ways of measuring the contribution of economic research might consider submitting a proposal to a special issue on ‘dissident scholarship’ in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology. The dissidents, it would appear, are getting themselves organised.
Another practical step towards the radical restructuring of economics would be to support a new generation of heterodox economists. It is therefore very cheering to see a post advertised that specifically excludes neoclassical economists. The Joan Robinson Research Fellowship in Heterodox Economics is named in honour of our own Sister Joan, disciple of Keynes, and a scholar cheated of her Nobel Prize merely for having the wrong genital design. Girton College Cambridge should be congratulated for funding the post, and for paying tribute to their illustrious alumna.
The existence of the concept of heterodox economics implies that the nature of economics as studied and taught is more religion than science. Perhaps we should rather be arguing for pluralism: for economics to accept the sort of lively debate that is common in all other disciplines. Let us hope that the researcher at Girton will be a key player in these debates, and will be followed by many more.