Friday, 12 August 2016

INET to Students: "Your Wish is My Command".

Emmanuelle Benicourt from MEPREE (Mouvement des étudiants pour la réforme de l’enseignement en économie, France) does not seem impressed with the CORE e-book "The Economy" (h/t Robert Vienneau).

A little background: students have long complained about mainstream economics teaching. To satisfy the students' demand for an alternative economics textbook, the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) -- founded in 2009 with a generous $50 million donation from George Soros, and supplemented since with donations by other philantropically-minded financiers -- announced with great fanfare the release of "The Economy", in August/September 2014.

Frankly -- and this probably speaks more of my own limitations -- at the time my reaction was of mild disinterest, at best; an outright "whatevah", at worst. I, however, did notice that some academics, of the American Democratic/Clintonite-leftism variety, seemed rather positive about it.

What I never stumbled upon was on the reaction of the student readership, to whom the book was supposed to serve. In fairness, it's not like I searched too much.

Benicourt's writing is the first I've seen. And I found it by coincidence, too.

As I wrote above, she isn't impressed and goes into some detail on alleged "absurdities" in the book's content (I'm not prejudging one way or the other: you be the judge). She starts with methodological individualism, then comes marginal productivity (absurdity number 1), then increasing marginal cost (absurdity number 2), etc. She, in other words, complains about the assumptions used in microeconomics. You probably know the list or, at any event, can get the idea on your own; better still, read her.

What I found interesting is this (emphasis added):
"These 'distinctive' aspects of CORE e-Book are in line with student movements' claims. No mathematics – only a few curves – a lot of 'stories' that take place in different countries, and periods of history, some 'psychology' (behavioral experiments), concern with growth, environment and development problems, inequalities, etc., with plenty of dates, charts and figures."
But, but, but … I don't understand. Didn't the Austro/Keynesians claim that the greatest single failing of economics was its use of maths, not its assumptions? Isn't that what philosophically, methodologically, ontologically, epistemologically-minded post Keynesian critics of mainstream economics insist endlessly, pouring acid scorn on everybody else? After all, according to these post Keynesians, "the post-Keynesian position is that Keynes cannot be interpreted in mathematical terms". Maths has no place in good economics.

Well, the INET fulfilled that wish in that book. The lack of maths should make of it a great book; at the very least, it must have made of it a passably good book. However, if you believe Benicourt -- one of the students for whom it was written -- it doesn't seem to be either


Somehow this episode reminds me of tales of wishes that backfire: "be careful what you wish for, you might just get it".

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