Shifting Paradigms in Classrooms & Academia: Why We Need Pluralism in Economics

By APEG.

The term “heterodox economics” describes a conglomeration of several schools of economic thought that completely or partially criticises the domination of orthodox neoclassical economic thought – not only in higher education but also in political affairs. While orthodox economics and its assumptions of individualism, rational behaviour, and market equilibria has a tight grip on universities and institutions around the world, heterodox economic thought and its considerations for institutions, history, and social structures has been side-lined in international affairs and driven out of economics departments.

However, after the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 (an economic disaster that none of the orthodox economists saw coming), alternative approaches to economics that had predicted the crisis gained traction again. “How do people behave and make decisions?” “What does it mean to live in an ecosystem with finite resources?” “How do financial markets actually function?” These are just some of the questions that neoclassical economics has neglected or failed to answer. Behavioural economists try to answer these questions by combining economic analysis with psychology; ecological economists take into account the research from natural sciences while Post-Keynesians derive their ideas from sociology and real-world data.

Seeing a need for interdisciplinary discussion and curriculum reform in economics, student-led society the Aberdeen Political Economy Group (APEG) launched the Shifting Paradigms Conference in 2017. With a focus on interdisciplinary and pluralist approaches to economics, the conference aims to give heterodox approaches a voice. It brings all these perspectives to the table to gain a more holistic approach to contemporary issues and promote them to equal standing with neoclassical economics. Moreover, by bringing together a diverse set of academics and professionals from around the world, the conference aims to broaden the understanding of students, showcasing that there is more to economics than what students are currently taught at universities. In addition to promoting pluralism in economics, the conference seeks to make an impact on student life in Aberdeen by putting the campus on the map for progressive thinking.

Since its launch, the conference has focused on a variety of important themes – such as race and gender, automation, technology, inequality, and climate change (just to name a few). Though diverse, each theme from each year has sought to bring up contemporary issues and broaden the option of solutions for current problems, offering an interdisciplinary perspective alongside mainstream economic thought.

Going into its third consecutive year, the 2019 Shifting Paradigms Conference will be focused on uncovering the right approaches to achieving well-being, establishing sustainable growth, and dealing with economic crises – asking namely, “How do we develop an economy that works (better) for everyone?” Just as in previous conferences, these themes invite us to inspect our current system and to question its feasibility in combating inequality and climate change and its ability to improve the well-being of everyone. Through the efforts of multiple student-led organizing committees, speakers from the UK, Europe, and Africa will give talks about a broad range of issues, such as the feasibility and implications of policies such as a Universal Basic Income, the advantages/disadvantages of structuring economics in terms of well-being instead of economic growth, and the permanent crisis of development aid. The potential for including multidisciplinary approaches, such as psychology, to economic and public policymaking will also be discussed.

Held from November 8-10, the conference invites students to become active participants in the social and economic sustainability debate. Moreover, given the wide range of topics that will be discussed, there is something in it for every student from any academic field with an interest in contemporary issues.

Attributed Authors: Sara Kurki-Suonio & Jan Hendricks (President of APEG and Debater Society)

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