PCES Conference 2017: The Big Questions.

Our recent conference on the 18th and 19th of March was wonderful. For that weekend, University place was full of ideas and proposals from all kinds of people. There were raised voices at times, there were feelings also, at times of immense clarity, but more than anything it was just really interesting. There were over 20 talks over the course of the weekend. Richard Murphy’s one for example, was on tax avoidance and evasion and its effect on society. The level of energy and enthusiasm, and the insight he gave us on the true nature of tax avoidance. The picture that he painted provided gave us a good idea of the scale of tax avoidance and how corrosive this really is. It seemed almost comical how easily certain people and companies can avoid tax. But when we remember what our tax pays for the laughter is replaced by a kind of indignance. Especially during the last election when the feeling was very much that ‘we’ve run out of money’, and that thus we could ‘no longer afford’ to be splashing money on public services. The ‘Civil Discussion’ with Bob Kerslake was also very insightful, and similar to past events felt very much like an inside scoop on the world. Bob identified a number of regional imbalances within the UK such as London’s responsibility for 40% of UK output, despite as we know, only representing a tiny part of the UK. He suggested regional devolution in England into large areas as a more appropriate means of governance, along with some other suggestions, thereby stimulating a discussion within the room that saw us through to our...

Why Oh Why Can’t We Have Better Post-Crash Commentary?

Allison Schrager has written an article in Quartz about the global student movement to reform economics education, entitled “The single most important thing an economics course can teach you”. The article does not answer the question in the title, which might be forgiven as a publishing error except that it doesn’t seem to have a point at all. Instead, Shrager’s approach is to throw everything possible at the student movement and see what sticks. Unfortunately, the result is a prime example of almost everything wrong with the way some economists have responded to this movement: it’s full of inaccuracies about what we believe, repeats popular caricatures of any challenge to economics, and is unnecessarily harsh. We would expect a professional economist to produce something better than this. Schrager’s working hypothesis is that the student movement is “ignorant” about economics and has a “sloppy, inaccurate portrayal of mainstream economic theory”. She suggests that we have “barely studied the subject they think needs radical change”, and that we are “are already getting [diversity in economics], they just don’t know enough to realize it”. It’s interesting that she seems to know more about our education than us, and we wonder what she thinks we’ve been doing on economics degrees, if not being exposed to economics. In any case, if we are apparently coming out of economics degrees with little knowledge of economics, then whose fault is that? What’s worse is that the sole piece of evidence Schrager can muster to back up her assertions is that in our report, we allegedly “call out the mainstream, top-tiered “Chicago Journal” which isn’t an economics journal)”. Firstly, even if we grant this error,...

What Is Post Crash Economics (and Why Should You Care)?

The Post Crash Economics Society (PCES) is a group of economics students who believe there is something missing from our education. Economics is a central issue in the modern world and yet what we are taught is disconnected from the economics we hear about every day: recessions, inequality, immigration, the NHS, austerity and the digital revolution. Instead of studying these crucial issues and the different perspectives on them, students only learn about the neoclassical school of thought. This means economics graduates are ill-equipped to deal with the problems faced by the world today, which is why PCES are campaigning for reforms to the curriculum so that it is more pluralistic, critical and connected to the real world. PCES set up in 2013 in response to the lack of change in the curriculum following the 2008 financial crisis. This crisis had caught economists, policymakers and politicians completely off guard, with the most widely used economic theories at the time unable to account for even the possibility of such an event. The effects of the crisis are still being felt today by everyone – economics students or otherwise – with GDP only recently having returned to its post-crisis level, 7 years on. Yet our education made little to no mention of the crisis and how it had happened, focusing instead on toy theories and repetitive mathematics. We realised that there was a problem with our economics education, not only in its failure to account for the crisis but also in its failure to address the kind of important economic issues we had expected an economics education to address. We produced a report outlining these problems in detail. Economics...

Understanding Post Crash

It’s always good to see major publications engaging in the debate over pluralism in economics education, and after something of an ebb in media coverage, The Economist has produced a short piece on the student-led movement to reform economics education. This provides an opportunity to combat some common arguments/mischaracterisations we encounter in the press (though we do not wish to single out The Economist specifically): that we are ‘anti-free market’; that we as students are not qualified to criticise the discipline; and that we would be better off channeling our energy into disciplines other than economics. The article begins with this: Since the financial crisis, various student groups all over the world, from the Post-Crash Economics Society at Manchester University to the International 
Economics, have challenged the way the subject is taught by professors, believing it too beholden to free-market orthodoxy. [emphasis ours] This is probably the one mischaracterisation that, no matter how hard we try, we cannot shake. Neither our society nor the far broader recent student movement are concerned specifically with “free-market orthodoxy” and we have never said so. Instead, our critique is of economic theory, economics education and the role of economists in society. In fact, here at PCES we believe that economics and economists (especially in macro) currently focus too much on policy of all kinds, and too little on understanding the economy. It is a fallacy to assume that just because economists are preoccupied with policy, any attack on their approach is preoccupied with policy, too. This is not to pretend we are somehow ‘objective bystanders’ or that we do...