The Employers Panel Event

On Tuesday 7th February we were lucky enough to be joined by Frances Coppola, a former banker and now prominent financial writer, Andy Ross a former deputy of the Treasury and Howard Kingston, head of maritime insurance at the Zurich Insurance Group. Where we settled into a lecture theatre for an evening of insights into the world of work. A number of themes stood out, some related closely to the guiding topic of the talk (‘are our degrees failing us’) and most about general advice on how to approach the world of work. The message was nuanced, but broadly similar across the board: are degrees are not failing us, but they could be a lot better and more applicable to the working world. This models we learn are not useless but not always useful, and that what we learn is far from the whole picture. Andy Ross gave a number of very funny accounts of people using simple macroeconomic models to look at issues as complex as immigration. To this end Frances Coppola had a lot to say. Adding that we need to understand how things actually are: banks create nearly all of the money in circulation and that money itself, while it is often skirted over as a ‘means of exchange’, it can be far better understood as a product in of itself. A product that is bought and sold at a price determined by market forces, just like any other(take the dollar as an example here). Can an economics education that doesn’t really factor this in be considered fit for purpose? The world is messy and complex...

The Wrong Kind of Curriculum Reform

Manchester’s economics department has quietly proposed a radical reorganisation of its undergraduate degrees’ structure. Whilst you might expect us to be celebrating, this is the wrong sort of radical. This blog post will take you through the proposal and explain our opposition to the move. All quotes throughout this post are taken from a document circulated to students involved in the consultation. The proposal At the heart of the proposal is the division of economics undergraduate students into two ‘streams’. The division will take place in the core modules: microeconomics, macroeconomics and econometrics. The majority of students – which will be supplied largely by the BAEcon degree – will study the first stream. This stream will be more applied in its approach, with there being a focus on real-life examples. This is designed for students who wish to apply economic principles to a range of problems, for example as private sector economists. A minority of students – coming largely from the BEconSc degree – will study a more ‘technical’ stream. It will “take a more quantitative approach and go into more technical detail on how to derive and produce answers”. The proposal continues that this stream is aimed at those who intend to “go onto a career in academia or in a specialised technical field, such as in central banks, some government departments, or financial markets”. Why is this being proposed? Briefly, the diversity of mathematical abilities in second year classes at Manchester causes issues for lecturers and this proposal aims to address that. By grouping together those who are better at maths and those that are weaker, the idea is...

What Would We Like to See on the Curriculum?

A recent post by blogger Tony Yates presents an opportunity for us to give a brief clarification of what we would like to see on the economics curriculum, and to debunk some common myths that seem to circulate among mainstream economists about campaigns like ours. This will only be a whistle-stop tour of the kind of stuff we’d like to see taught; over time, we hope to develop a more comprehensive outline of a post-crash curriculum. Anti-Maths? Critics of economics are often thought to be anti-maths (with the underlying implication that they are simply not clever enough to understand maths or economics). However, although we believe mathematics on its own does not lend a theory credibility – and that contemporary economic models seem to have sacrificed too much relevance in the name of mathematical tractability – we are not at all anti-mathematics. In fact, a lot of the mathematics taught on undergraduate and even graduate economics courses is quite dated and simplistic (eg linear equations; stochastic, normally distributed shocks). This is the kind of stuff natural scientists abandoned when they realised how complex and unpredictable the world can be (see Phillip Mirowski on this). This is why we would strongly endorse a link up with our mathematics department to teach ordinary differential equations – as well as models which utilise them, such as Richard Goodwin’s model of class struggle – to economics students so that they may gain a better understanding of dynamic systems, rather than simply using comparative statics with unique equilibrium solutions. Economics students could also be taught basic programming packages such as MATLAB – mathematics and engineering students currently are – so...