Blog: The Critical Economics Summit, Bologna, May 2017 (4 min read)
Words by Ben Pringle
18 May 2017
I had the pleasure of attending the ‘Critical Economics Summit’ that took place in Bologna between the 5th & 7th of May 2017. The setting for the event was the historic University of Bologna, which is the oldest university in the world having continuously operated since its established in 1088. I set off for Italy at the relatively early time of 4am to Liverpool Airport from Manchester, and arrived in Milan at 9:30am. From there I had the wonderful experience of a train journey from Milan to Bologna through the countryside, and after taking the ‘scenic route’ to the university (sounds better than saying I was lost) I arrived at the conference just in time for lunch.
Having recently become a Trustee of Rethinking Economics, I wanted to attend the conference to see the brilliant work that the groups are doing in Italy, and the enthusiasm shown by the Rethinking Italia team sure did not disappoint. From the speakers to the sessions, the conference provided a space for those in academia, students and the public to debate the issues within economics that matter. This includes discussions regarding everyone’s favourite subject; the European Union, as well as inequality, unemployment and the future of economics teaching and research.
A personal favourite of mine during the conference was the analogy used by Shailaja Fennell, University of Cambridge, of the rabbit or the duck analogy. The analogy being that economists should rather than being one, they should be both. This is a message I continue to make, what we need to provide to students in economics is a toolkit for policy and understanding rather than a narrow learning environment. Occasionally you might need to be the duck whereas in other cases you may elect to be the rabbit. Pluralistic teaching gives students that choice.
The other highlight from me were to listen to Luigi Pasinetti, considered the heir of the “Cambridge Keynesians” and one of the prominent members on the Cambridge side of the ‘Cambridge capital controversy’ during the 1960’s. He spoke on a panel with Thomas Ferguson, Director of Research at INET and Steve Keen, Head of Economics at Kingston University. Thomas gave a fantastic speech about the mistakes that are currently being made in economics and the way forward for reformists. Thomas finished his speech by saying “economics wants to be a science as it thinks that will reduce the debate” and on that I completely agree. In both economics and life, where we see problems, we should seek to resolve them rather than being adverse to reform. INET are providing the support for new research within the subject and through the Young Scholar Initiative they are helping to connect young scholars through an open and critical community.
The conference itself provides much to ponder on how we can help rethink economics throughout the EU and across the globe, however, it was fantastic to see many old faces from the ISIPE movement and meet some new ones as well. Conferences are a chance to hear about the magnificent work that is happening in the subject as well as providing an intellectual base to attendees. Economics may have been criticised over the years and at times I have been the one criticising it, this will remain true going forward; however there is still great work happening within the subject. The aim of the reform movement is to open the subject and create a pluralist education that embodies real world application and economic history. What those in mainstream economics fail to at times grasp is that neoclassical economics is included within that prescription, where we see monopoly we should create competition, as I was taught.
The conference finally provided a chance for members to meet people from across Europe and discuss local and national issues; Skype can never provide a substitute for that! I look forward to seeing you all very soon, the summer is fast approaching in the UK and you are always more than welcome. Rethinking is an international movement and any work that I will be doing as a part of my role as a Trustee will always remember this.
I leave you with this from Keynes, remember that to be simply an economist you should be the below. This is something that helps me clarify my thoughts and I hope it helps you too.