- The economy is how capital is distributed, assets accumulated, and goods and services exchanged. These are all useful to society in general and vital to the market economy in the UK, specifically.
- In addition to these functions, the economy as currently structured also produces a range of other outcomes which are less socially desirable: inequality, environmental degradation and the breakdown of natural systems, assaults on health and privacy. The financial crash of 2008 also revealed that market mechanisms within the economy were not as efficient as previously thought in allocating capital in the most efficient way to the best uses.
- These are outcomes that are externalised – created within economic systems but largely considered beyond the responsibility of economic players to put right. In the UK, it is expected that the State and philanthropic organisations should resolve these “social” problems.
Central to this was the idea that the economy was a social construct which is collectively designed to perform a range of functions. Economists are key designers of the concepts, institutions, measurements, and policies that shape the operation of the economy; how they are educated and who they are beginning to get at the fundamentals of managing economic thinking.
Following the economic crash in 2008, the Queen is reported to have asked why no one foresaw the crises. In a response in 2009, economist Tim Besley from the London School of Economics stated “the failure to foresee the timing, extent and severity of the crisis and to head it off, while it had many causes, was principally a failure of the collective imagination of many bright people, both in this country and internationally, to understand the risks to the system as a whole.”
Every year over 10,000 economics students graduate from UK universities and fill the worlds of finance, business, policy making and regulation. Equipping these economists of the future with the ability to imagine and understand the economic system is the shared goal of the projects we have supported that challenge the economics curriculum.
We have supported two interventions that focus on improving economics education in the UK and beyond –
Post-Crash Economics Society or Rethinking Economics: PCES now called Rethinking Economics was established by students in 2013 to challenge the teaching of economics at the University of Manchester. They, alongside other student societies in the UK and internationally believe that students are taught one economic perspective as if it was universally established truth. Critical and independent thinking is discouraged and there is insufficient coverage of history, ethics or philosophy. (Grants in 2014, 2016 and 2019)
CORE Economics: which stands for Curriculum Open access Resources for Economics, was created in 2015 as a project operating out of University College London with contributions from academics in the US, UK, India, South America and Europe. The academics running the CORE project responded to the widely shared conviction that current teaching fails to equip students to address questions of public policy by seeking to close two gaps. The first is between what is currently taught and what economists have learned over the past few decades but especially since the financial crisis of 2008. Secondly, CORE aims to close the gap between passive lecture and textbook methods and the free online interactive teaching and learning now possible. (Grants in 2015 and 2018)
Theories of Change
The theory of change that Rethinking Economics operates can be summarised as:
Reforming economics education is a chance to change the way economics graduates think about and practice finance and economics. Corporate and regulatory decision making would be improved dramatically if agents were exposed to multiple approaches to economics, were trained to be able to evaluate economic theory critically and were aware of the ethical questions fundamental to both the theory and practice of finance.
Student societies hold the key to curriculum reform. The economics discipline requires external pressure to change as it has shown no sign that it will reform itself, and internally led proposals for reform are too incremental. The rapid spread of reform societies and widespread support in civil society makes the aim of fundamental curriculum reform highly achievable. By supporting the development of an effective student movement, Rethinking promotes the issues to new students and spreads awareness and grows a sustainable call for heterodox economics curriculum with an emphasis on drawing on a range of economic thought.
Core Economics takes the perspective that what is commonly taught – with a focus on profit maximisation, self-interest, presumption of market equilibrium – is a distortion of economic thought. The CORE curriculum (an introductory year for undergraduates) aims to redress this balance through a curriculum designed to empower students, so that economics for them becomes something that they do, not something that they simply learn. The modular and free online nature of the materials means that they are readily useable by teachers in schools and colleges and by groups wishing to empower their memberships through workshops, focusing on issues including globalization, environmental sustainability and economic justice. By engaging students in central questions of society through the lens of economics, CORE hopes to both encourage a wider range of students to take economics courses as well as to stay interested in economic thinking as a potential way of addressing challenges facing us all.
The projects that FPF has supported do not entirely agree with each other in terms of how best to achieve the central aim of equipping economists of the future with the ability to meet the substantial challenges of inequality, environmental degradation, the failure of democratic institutions and increasing economic instability arising from climate change. The CORE project is a current system intervention – it is about teaching and learning in classrooms now. Rethinking takes a longer view and is focused on building a student movement to sustain pressure on academic institutions to widen and broaden what is taught as economics; this is likely to take a generation to see change.
FPF takes the view that these interventions are intrinsically linked and are complementary: the pressure brought by Rethinking to academic institutions provides a potential source of impetus which will drive institutions to respond by adopting CORE or other new curricula. Our view is that economics curricula need to change in order to respond to the changing needs of our society and we support credible efforts to bring about that change. It is this reason we decided to undertake a project to amalgamate these two ideas, this resulted in a poem, both written and in a video format, addressing these issues.