My question here is not about theory, but more about the teaching landscape. I'm currently learning economics in Canada, and I realize that the academic world is very homogeneous. I'm quite impressed by the lack of pluralism, and the absence of any marxist and post-keynesian perspectives (even though the subject of orthodoxy is thoroughly explored by authors like Steve Keen). So, here are my questions:

(1) According to you, what explains the lack of pluralism in the current academic landscape?

(2) Do you know of any post-keynesian and/or marxist courses currently taught in Canada or USA (at a graduate level)?

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    $\begingroup$ The question 3 is opinion based and opinion based questions are strictly off topic on this site. Since other questions are fine instead of closing your question I just deleted the 3rd one $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Dec 17, 2021 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately if you are layman then when it comes to any field, not just economics but also medicine biology etc you will get exposed just to the surface level policy discussion which is necessarily normative. That obviously does not mean that economics medicine or biology is just expert opinions. Such assertion is absurd prima facie to anyone who ever studied any of the fields $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Dec 18, 2021 at 11:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Peter-ReinstateMonica this is serious site for those who study, teach, research and apply economics and econometrics, trolling and cheap baiting is not welcome. $\endgroup$
    – csilvia
    Dec 18, 2021 at 12:20
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    $\begingroup$ In law school my Legal Philosophy professor, an economist, wanted me to draw "Liberty curves" to demonstrate the trade-off between private constraints and public constraints in the analysis of law. But these curves have no objective meaning apart from arbitrary assumptions in the math model. So I would not draw the curves and took a lower grade. Pluralism in economics is caused by diverse working assumptions which generate real differences in the applied math models. If many models are plausible then there is uncertain fit between the math models and the system represented by alternate models. $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2021 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexandreMichaud no worries, if it was by mistake then next time you can roll it back yourself as well. If you click on edit, there are rollback options $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Dec 22, 2021 at 19:50

1 Answer 1

  1. .. what explains the lack of pluralism in the current academic landscape?

A) This is mostly due to empirical revolution in economics.

In the past economics used to have a lot of schools of thought (e.g. Keynesian, Marxian, Classical, Austrian etc), which coexisted along each other. This was in non-trivial way due to the fact that different schools made different theoretical assumptions in their model and in the past there was no way how to test those assumptions (for example Keynesian view on shape and behavior of aggregate demand and supply vs classical or Austrian one).

However, as you can see below in the picture from Angrist et al. (2017), during the last century economics underwent empirical revolution. In most fields most papers nowadays are empirical.

Empirics in turns weeds out theories from science that cannot be empirically verified. For example, in physics there was a decade when there was Newtonian "camp" and Relativistic "camp" of physics coexisting, but soon whole physics shifted to relativity once Newtonian physics was shown not able to explain empirical observations (or more recently in physics there used to be debate between dark matter and modified Newtonian dynamics but now dark mater is physics orthodoxy thanks to empirical observations).

Simply put, once you start empirically testing things scope for diversity naturally declines. For example, if labor theory of value continuously fails multiple empirical tests and does not offer useful predictions and explanations why would you take it seriously?

Of course, no theory is perfect, there might be instances when theory fails some empirical tests but it is still used because there are no better theories to replace it, but generally speaking if some theory fails test after test, then it is just matter of time before it gets marginalized and weeded out.

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B) I would also challenge your assertion economics lacks pluralism

I do not think economics has a lack of pluralism compared to other scientific fields. In fact economics is probably more pluralistic then let's say medicine, physics or biology.

For example, take Marxian economics, which empirically has empirical success on par with homeopathy. Marxian economics is still being taught and discussed at some universities, for example at the University of London. It is just no longer prominent in the field. However, in medicine you would be much more hard pressed to find actual credited universities teaching courses in homeopathy.

Yet you will find even some good ranking schools, like Institute for Social Studies (part of Erasmus University of Rotterdam), that teach Marxian oriented programmes.

I would like to see any serious study that would actually show economics is not pluralistic compared to other science fields. I would even dare to say that economics is one of the most pluralistic fields outside of perhaps sociology or philosophy.

However, in any field of science, scientists will eventually arrive at consensus when it comes to positive results. E.g. why would anyone still teach Ptolemean model of solar system outside history of physics, or in economics in Physiocratic theory that all value is derived from land and land improvements only outside history of economics.

(2) Do you know of any post-keynesian and/or marxist courses currently taught in Canada or USA (at a graduate level)?

Yes here is a list of universities that have heterodox PhD economics programmes. Some of them are European but there are also American universities there. For example,

American University, US

The diverse theoretical approaches are combined with solid training in empirical methods which prepare graduates for teaching in colleges and universities, research positions in government departments or consulting firms, and policy making. Our Washington D.C. location gives students excellent access to government agencies such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and think tanks such as the Economic Policy Institute and the Institute of International Economics. These agencies give students special opportunities for internships and part-time employment as well as the chance to hear and speak with economists dealing with today s national and international economic issues.> The Department of Economics offers a Ph.D. degree with programs of study in either political economy or traditional economic theory. The neoclassical and Keynesian traditions form the core of economic theory taught by the Department of Economics. Our uniquely pluralistic approach to economics encompasses a range of other perspectives, including Post Keynesian, Institutionalist, and post-Marxian economic theories. Our program emphasizes international and economic policy perspectives. Specialized course offerings include the economics of gender, the economics of transition economies, economic methodology, monetary economics, public finance, economic development, labor economics, industrial organization, international trade, international finance, econometrics, economic history, and mathematical economics.


Colorado State University, US ↑

The graduate program of the Department of Economics integrates rigorous training in quantitative methods with a broad, historically-grounded and critical approach to research and teaching that encompasses a plurality of perspectives and streams of economic thought. M.A. students are required to take core courses in each of the fields of macroeconomics, microeconomics, econometrics and political economy. PhD students take an additional advanced course in each of these fields. Beyond the core, students have a great deal of flexibility in selecting their fields of emphasis and research. The program has two main foci – political economy and regional economics. The heterodox political economy component of the program has traditionally been active in the fields of radical economics and institutional economics. In recent years, this dynamic and evolving program has been complemented by faculty working in the fields of feminist, structuralist, post-Keynesian, and Marxist economics, with an overall focus on international economics and economic development. This foundation prepares students for research and teaching positions in colleges and universities, research positions in government and the private sector, as well as for policy-related work with labor, environmental and international policy organizations.

PS: Steve Keen is discredited scholar (see this old SE answer). Teaching Steve Keen in graduate school would be equivalent of teaching the Rogoff & Reinhart theory that once debt-to-GDP goes above magical threshold of 90% country will have debt problems in graduate macro program. Although I am not even being just to Rogoff & Reinhart because they had only one seriously controversial research project. No matter how much someone hates mainstream economics, if S. Keen is the alternative then good grief!

  • $\begingroup$ This answer seems incomplete, in that empirical evidence can "weed out" descriptive or positive theories, but not normative theories, which are also an important part of economics. $\endgroup$
    – nanoman
    Dec 18, 2021 at 6:19
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    $\begingroup$ @nanoman there aren’t normative theories strictly speaking there is normative economics which is economics theories + values. However, post-Keynesian or actually even Marxian economics aspires to be value free even if de facto you will find only radically left leaning people pursuing it. Theory in science is mechanism (like theory of evolution) theory can’t be normative. For example, you can easily take any theory from mainstream economics and apply any values across political spectrum to it <- that is normative economics, taking theory and then imputing your value judgements. $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Dec 18, 2021 at 10:19
  • $\begingroup$ @nanoman consider an example. take Marxian theory of business cycle. You can completely accept Marxian theory of business cycle where crisis are inevitable consequences of capitalism and still say we should have laissez faire capitalism based on your values - that is what normative economics is. You take the Marxian theory of business cycle and then you create policy prescriptions given your values and if you value non-intervention too much then this would be your conclusion. In the same way you can reject this theory believe we should abolish private property if you hate it too much $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Dec 18, 2021 at 10:47
  • $\begingroup$ But you cannot have normative theory (meaning actually normative scientific theories not just some non-empirical philosophical writing that is sometimes referred to as theory). Because it’s not possible that your own values change reality. For example, if labor elasticity wrt tax rate in US is -0.5 that does not change just because you switch your political allegiance. Or if New Keynesian business cycle theory is correct then, that is his business cycle behaves no matter what values people have. The moral philosophy itself is not taught in most modern econ programs but in philosophy majors $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Dec 18, 2021 at 10:51
  • $\begingroup$ I think it's funny that under the question asking about lack of diversity in Econ there are two answers: one is by the #1 user on the site, and the other one was deleted by the #1 user, who happens to be a mod (: $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Dec 22, 2021 at 20:59

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