What Matters To Us

We often talk about ‘changing economics for the benefit of society’, in fact, it is central to our charitable purpose. This page is dedicated to explaining what we think will be ‘better’ as a result of changing economics. This is because as an international network we know that economics, both as practiced in society and taught in the classroom, has the power to contribute positively to society. An economics that is open, relevant and for everyone can help solve the pressing issues we face today.

Why rethinking economics will benefit the discipline

The Problem

We really care about economics. We care about what it contributes to society, how it is perceived by society, and how it functions as a branch of knowledge. We are proud to be part of a discipline that has lifted billions out of extreme poverty, and developed stable and efficient economic institutions. We are, however, concerned that future achievements of economics are inhibited by a deficient academic culture. We believe that economics, as it is currently understood and practiced, is too narrow, ahistorical and disconnected from the real world. We believe that the discipline is insufficiently critical, and too often fails to understand social reality in partnership with other social sciences. Neoclassical economics dominates the discipline, and whilst very useful in certain circumstances, would benefit from being complemented by a plurality of economic perspectives.

RE’s Solution

Rethinking Economics advocates a discipline that is open to a plurality of methodologies and theories. In academic, professional and educational settings we would promote any economic problem being approached by economic historians, sociologists, anthropologists, mathematicians, as well as economists with a range of competing perspectives.

We do not hope to achieve some unifying general theory simply by combining these theories and discipline, in fact we welcome debate, but rather we believe that a culture of collaboration and cross-fertilisation of ideas will contribute to a better economics.

Why rethinking economics will combat climate change

The Problem

One of the most pressing issues of our time is climate change. To tackle it, we need all the good ideas we can gather. Yet academic economics is not helping. Take the UK, for example: of the 24 Russell Group universities that have economics departments, only nine have environmental economics modules. Of those nine none mention ecological economics or other alternative economic perspectives. Instead, only a small subset of abstract policy options, which fail to adequately understand resource depletion, climate change, or pollution, are taught. This state of affairs means that economics students graduate lacking the tools they need to combat climate change. Consequently, societies struggle to devise policies or create economies with sustainability at their core.

RE’s Solution

If we are to effectively address climate change, we must first broaden the lens through which policy makers, politicians and economists understand the world. To do this we must address the lack of pluralism within university courses and specifically the omission of environmental problems from undergraduate curriculums.
Through campaigning for curriculum reform, Rethinking Economics is working towards this essential change. We are calling for a pluralist curriculum which includes teaching students about ecological economics, and teaches through the use of real world examples and problems.

Why rethinking economics will combat inequality

The Problem

Currently, economics education raises one perspective - ‘neoclassical economics’ - to the sole object of study, which has grave repercussions for the way economists view inequality. In basic neoclassical economics, the distribution of income is treated as a natural outcome of market forces, and interventions are deemed to disrupt these forces. Power and politics, and historical questions about how inequality has arisen, are rarely addressed.

What is more, there are ideas within economics that tackle these questions: approaches such as feminist or development economics do address the historical and cultural reasons for ingrained and persistent inequality, and take a more real world focused approach in which economics can and should try to intervene.

But, because curricula leave out these approaches, economists’ ability to understand or address inequality are limited. And because so many economics graduates go on to work in think tanks or organisations like the World Bank, this lack of pluralism has very real and tangible effects across the world.

RE’s Solution

Our campaign aims to change economics so that it will educate the next generation of economic decision-makers in a diversity of approaches. We believe that graduates will have a much firmer grasp of global, regional, gender and racial inequality were they exposed to a range of competing perspectives and required to assess their strengths and weaknesses. We also emphasise an understanding of the historical causes of inequality and the ethical implications of different policies.

These changes will shape a new generation of economists who are open, engaged and socially conscious. These changes will also mean that economists will be equipped with a variety of tools, appropriate to the shifting and complex factors that sharpen inequality in our society. Without a reformed curriculum, economists and policymakers repeatedly think within the same parameters and fail to devise policies or build economies that work for the good of everyone within society. To address inequality, the ‘Overton Window’ through which politicians, economists and citizens understand the world must first be opened up, and the first step towards this is a pluralist curriculum.

Why rethinking economics will improve democracy

The Problem

Economics is construed as a neutral or technical issue which ordinary citizens cannot engage with, and a widespread lack of understanding of economics prevents citizens from holding decision makers to account. Together, this justifies decisions which affect us all being taken by small groups of technical and political elites without public consultation or engagement.

An example from the UK, via a YouGov poll of 1548 adults from 2015, shows that only 39% of us can define Gross Domestic Product, and only 30% Quantitative Easing. This lack of knowledge prevents citizens from making informed democratic choices within a society shaped by economics, which in turn prevents the proper functioning of democracy: it prevents individuals making informed choices about which political party best represents them; it inhibits people from positively articulating their views; and it hinders communities from thinking about the type of economies they would like to build. In short, without accessible and understandable economics, democracy does not really function as it should.

RE’s Solution

RE began as a student led campaign for a university economics education that creates critical, socially engaged economists who have the knowledge and skills to address the big problems our societies face. Whilst this campaign continues, we also realised that producing better economists wasn’t enough; to build a sustainable, just, stable and dynamic economy our society needs a general public that is able to engage with economic discussion, scrutinise economic decision makers, and articulate what it needed from the economy.

To achieve all of this, Rethinking Economics runs projects that engage the public in this debate and teaches economics in plain, easy to understand language. We’ve run public conferences, taught high school students, and run adult education courses. In all of these we have strived to tackle economics in interactive, accessible, and creative ways - take our Economy website, for instance; this campaign for understandable economics provides people with easy, accessible ways to learn about the subject and brings new voices into the debate about it.

Economics network employers survey 2014-15
Survey of seven British universities
ISIPE global survey
Employers report