Heterodox Economics Newsletter

Issue 288 November 15, 2021 web pdf Heterodox Economics Directory

Last week I spotted an interesting paper discussing "The Future of Heterodox Economics". Unlike most papers on the subject, which focus on conceptual arguments, this article aims for an empirical take using interviews with leading heterodox scholars as a prime source. While the paper needs some additional polishing, it still raises several interesting points.

First, the paper takes a balanced and ambitious stand on inter-paradigmatic interaction. While fully acknowledging the institutional lopsidedness and inherent biases towards mainstream views and interpretations prevailing in contemporary economics, it still advocates to intensify conversations and interactions with our mainstream colleagues. This surely is the hard road, but I agree (and suggested a similar take in my last editorial).

Second, the paper raises the need for a more coherent approach towards teaching on all levels. Again, I agree that striving for a coherent narrative in teaching, that makes the power and diversity of heterodox thought more accessible, is of crucial importance. It is also something that regularly pops up in discussion on our own MA program on Socio-Economics at the University Duisburg-Essen. Drawing on these experiences, I think we current lack appropriate places and institutions specifically devoted to synthesizing our past efforts & insights from such programs to develop new ideas for innovative teaching, but also to find some agreement on an analytical and conceptual core, that most students in political economy should be familiar with.

Third, the paper raises the issue that "theoretical modeling [in mainstream economics] has taken on a chameleon-like quality" (p. 8) as next to any result can be reached within the conventional framework by introducing appropriate ad-hoc assumptions. This argument is around in many versions in heterodox economics – for instance, Tom Palley speaks of Gattopardo economics, while I myself tried to frame it as axiomatic variation. As many more have made a similar argument I deem this to be a clear-cut candidate for the kind of "synthesizing" I mentioned above.

Finally, the paper raises the controversial discussion on the merits of the label 'heterodox'. While there is an astonishing variety of views on this subject – ranging from people, who embrace the label, over others, who prefer to use it only in private contexts, to those colleagues, who reject using it at all (although they agree with some of its substance) – I admit to have a very pragmatic stance on this issue. For one, I believe in the possibility of a positive definition of heterodox economics based on widely shared conceptual and theoretical convictions – like viewing the (capitalist) economy as an embedded provisioning process coined by effective demand, increasing returns, endogenous money, distributional conflicts, fundamental uncertainty and technological & institutional path-dependencies that brings forth instable growth, global resource depletion and distributional asymmetries (i.e., a lot of power laws). Against this backdrop, I think 'heterodox economics' can be used largely interchangeably with alternative terms like socio-economics, political economy or pluralist economics as long as we are willing to provide a conceptually similar positive definition for these alternative terms. What then remains is a question of framing and it is here, where my pragmatism finally begins to shine ;-)

In my view labels should provide orientation – and indeed for disciplinary outsiders labels like 'socio-economics' or 'political economy' are far superior to heterodox economics as they refer to a specific field of study, namely the study of economic issues from a broader social science perspective (see also here). On the other hand 'heterodox economics' leaves outsiders clueless, but in the past has had some merit by providing orientation within the discipline by providing a common frame for those approaches that reject to use standard textbooks as a prime source of reference in teaching and research. For me these differences in context explain the current state of varying labels and also provide some legitimacy to this – terminologically ambivalent – status quo. It is also this line of reasoning – providing a point of orientation that serves as some kind of lighthouse** in the search for alternative approaches to economics – I have always been happy with keeping the original title of this Newsletter.

However, I would also be interested in your thoughts on this: Do you think this Newsletter needs a re-branding? If not, why so, if yes, what label would you suggest? We are happy to hear your views on this – simply write us an email.*

All the best,

Jakob

* As an inspiration you can also check out the "100 words on heterodox economics" section in the Heterodox Economics Directory.
** It is probably for this reason that the term 'heterodox' has recently also appeared in another field, namely computational social science, where a 'heterodox computational social science' questions prevailing epistemological, methodological and normative views within the computational social science community. These prevailing views are perceived to foster stereotypes, reaffirm existing social hierarchies, oversimplify social relations & discourses and inhibit positive social change. You can check out the paper here, it makes a very well stated and important argument.

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