Students Challenge the Standard Economic Model

Students challenge the standard economic model that is typically used, suggesting we try a heterodox approach to teaching economics.

| February/March 2002

Learn how students challenge the standard economic model.

Environmentalists, small-scale agriculturalists and alternative energy enthusiasts have been told on more than one occasion that their ideas weren't "good economics." But a student-led initiative is seeking to change exactly what "good economics" means.

At an international economics conference held last August at the University of Missouri — Kansas City (UMKC), students challenge the standard economic model with 25 participants signing "The Kansas City Proposal," an open letter to economic departments worldwide urging them to change their ways.

"Orthodox economics doesn't really encompass reality," says Franziska Pitcher, a graduate student who was one of the original signees. The orthodox school of thought is that markets basically will end up doing whatever's best without any control or guidance. Most people have encountered this theory in textbook illustrations of "invisible hands" that move workers from factories where they are not needed to factories where they are.

But with global warming, looming energy crises and multinational corporations that are more powerful than the countries in which they operate, students are asking whether orthodox economics' devotion to math and numbers can really be the end-all and be-all of economic theory.

The alternative, according to Pitcher, is a heterodox approach that takes in many approaches to looking at economic situations, including borrowing from the other social sciences — such as anthropology and psychology — which orthodox economics has long snubbed. A heterodox economist believes that regulating the market is a good thing, since the market doesn't always do what's best for society at large.

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