Photographer:Fotograaf: Comic: Sophie Bédard
PINE UCM: Student initiative for pluralism in economics
MAASTRICHT. “Not only the world economy is in crisis, the teaching of economics is in crisis too, and this crisis has consequences far beyond university walls.” This is the first sentence of the open letter of the international economics student initiative calling for ‘pluralism in economics’, or PINE. Students at University College Maastricht recently founded the first such group in the Netherlands: PINE UCM.
The PINE movement states that other academic fields embrace diversity and teach competing theories, while economics is often presented as a unified body of knowledge. “Nobody would take seriously a degree program in Psychology that focuses only on Freudianism, or a politics program that focuses only on socialism”, according to the open letter.
PINE UCM has the same aim as the 65 associations of economics students from over 30 different countries: exposure to different perspectives, ideologies and ideas, other than only neoclassical ideology. “The dominance of any one school is problematic because it discourages critical thinking and prevents new solutions and methods from being introduced”, argue Florian Simonsen and Jan Meijer, a German and a Dutch student respectively, both in the last phase of their UCM programmes.
“We don’t want to replace the neoclassical approach with a Marxist one“, they emphasise. “We’re looking for pluralism, for different theories and thoughts that give us the chance to think, argue and discuss based on arguments.” PINE UCM has two aims: “First to look at our own curriculum. At UCM we have six economics courses, given by SBE. We don’t want to bash the courses, rather to evaluate them critically and come up with constructive feedback and proposals for change.” Second, to initiate a general debate and raise awareness among students of the study of economics: “We’d like to organise guest lectures and panel discussions.”
Meijer paraphrases Tomáš Sedláček, the Czech economist who gave the Schuman Lecture this year in Maastricht. “He says that the current teaching in economics is a kind of religion. If you’re raised as a Catholic and they ask you when you’re eighteen if you’d like to be a Buddhist, you say no. If you grow up with neoclassicism you don’t want to look at different schools in your third year. You have to start with pluralism from the beginning.”
The portfolio holder for education at SBE, Rudolf Müller, is no stranger to the PINE movement. He acknowledges that the initial phase of the programme revolves around neoclassical economics. But for good reason, in his view: “We want students to first understand the (statistical and mathematical) language of mainstream economics, so they have a scholarly framework against which they can test different theories. If you look at the later phases of our programme you see subjects like Behavioural Economics, Innovation in Business & Economic Growth and Understanding Society, which promote a critical approach to the standard models.” He emphasises that many SBE staff view the world not just from a neoclassical point of view. “It’s true that we don’t really compare the different economic ideologies of Marx, Schumpeter, Keynes and others. But we’re not an exception in that regard.” He points out that the course History of Economic Thought will be launched in 2015, on the initiative of bachelor’s students who are calling for more reflection on different theories and comparison of alternative views in the curriculum.
SBE and Studium Generale will organise two lectures touching on this theme in early 2015: Thomas Dyllick and Katrin Muff on 9 February, and Tomáš Sedláček and Joris Luyendijk on 24 February. The lectures are among the events organised to celebrate SBE’s 30th anniversary.