INTERVIEW WITH Daniel Lapedus
(Head of Communications & Funding at Rethinking Economics)
“A MOVEMENT FOR RETHINKING ECONOMICS"
Is the way economics is taught in Universities near to the real problems of the current society? Many students and professors are now doubting that economics as a discipline is too narrow, inward-looking or broken. It all started in Australia four decades ago. Students and professors at the University of Sydney were the first to highlight the narrowness of their economics education, and partially succeeded by opening a political economy department that still exists today. In 1992 a letter was published in the American Economic Review calling for a broader economics education signed by nine Nobel Laureates including Paul Samuelson and Robert Solow. Then came the 2007/8 – a global financial crisis that shook not only the global economy, but the foundations of economics itself. A global body of students met in Tubingen, Germany in 2012 to share experiences and discuss how things could be different. Groups began to grow in London (LSE, UCL), Cambridge and Manchester. The Rethinking Economics movement had begun, and then formally founded by Yang Yuan in 2013. A global network of rethinkers has grown all around the world, with conferences and events all over the year in many countries of the world. But what is exactly the Rethinking Economics Movement? How can you join it? What are its principles? What kind of changes can “Rethinking Economics” bring to society? Can it help solve challenges like Climate Change? Daniel Lapedus, Head of Communications & Funding at Rethinking Economics (RE), answered to these and other questions.
Daniel Lapedus: Recently graduated MA Global Development & International Political Economy, now working for RE and its sister group Economy (ecnmy.org) - whose primary aim is to democratise economics. He got involved with RE through co-founding the OPEN Economics Leeds society, a member-group of RE, whilst studying Economics & Philosophy at the University of Leeds.
INTERVIEW - (July 2017)
This interview was made in July 2017 and published in September 2017 on www.lteconomy.org
Subject: Rethinking Economics Movement
- Economics needs to be re-thought because presently its teaching in universities is narrow, uncritical and detached from the real world…. Competing economics perspectives such as Complexity, Feminist, Austrian, Institutional, Marxist, Post-Keynesian and Ecological (and others) are almost completely absent from the majority of courses.
- One of Rethinking Economics (RE)’s most important principle is ‘openness…’ We are open to anyone and everyone, and you can join us for free. You don’t have to be an academic to get behind our mission. This relates to another one of our principles, which is to be a horizontal organisation…
- We are currently in the process of creating a thoroughly researched pluralist ranking of Universities within the UK... Certain universities that stick out to be quite pluralist for undergraduate curriculums include the University of Leeds and Greenwich, Goldsmiths and Kingston Universities…
- We now have 53 groups in 22 countries across the world, comprising of hundreds of organisers, with 11 member groups in Italy.
- We have a huge network in Italy, and we actually came over last month for the Critical Economics Summit in Bologna! If you are interested in joining up with your local group in Italy, you can find your nearest group on our interactive map.
- The best way economics can help deal with Climate change is by incorporating the environment as intrinsic to the economy rather than separate to it. This is the debate between Ecological and Environmental (neoclassical) economics… the vision underpinning ecological economics is a world where the economy is a subsystem of the ecosystem (and the social system).
Question 1: Welcome Daniel Lapedus and thank you for being with us. You are the Head of Communications & Funding at Rethinking Economics. What is the “Rethinking Economics Movement” and when and why was it founded? Why should economics be re-thought?
Rethinking Economics is an international network of students, academics, professionals and citizens building a better economics in the classroom and in society. Through a mixture of campaigning, events and engaging projects, Rethinking Economics connects people globally to discuss and enact the change needed for the future of economics, and to propel the vital debate on what economics is today.
The Post-Crash Economics Society (PCES) at Manchester University was founded in 2012 and set up as a charity shortly after. Born out of a frustration from their economics curriculums and the lack of engagement with real-world issues, such as the 2008 Financial Crisis, PCES then merged with Rethinking Economics - an ideologically similar group based in Cambridge and London in 2014. The merger created the charity we know as Rethinking Economics today.
Why should economics be re-thought?
Economics needs to be rethought because presently its teaching in universities is narrow, uncritical and detached from the real world. It is dogmatically taught from one perspective (neoclassical) as if it is the only legitimate way to study the economy. Competing economics perspectives such as Complexity, Feminist, Austrian, Institutional, Marxist, Post-Keynesian and Ecological (and others) are almost completely absent from the majority of courses
. There is no room for the critical discussion and debate that is essential for any student to engage with real world economic problems. Out of 172 courses we analysed in the UK, we found that only 22% of reviewed exam marks required students to illustrate any critical or independent thinking
. Seminars are focused on memorising and regurgitating academic theory, whilst exams test how well students can solve abstract equations. The lack of real-world application in courses is outstanding, in our curriculum review we found that only 3% of marks required student to make any link to the real world.
Question 2: Let’s suppose I’m an activist, not an economist nor an academics, but I strongly share your vision. What can I do to help the movement? More in general, who is the movement addressed to? Finally, how can an academic bring the debate into his university?
You can join our movement (for free) by filling out a simple online survey
. We will set you up with your local group, or if there isn’t a group in your locale we will help you start a group. Our movement’s primary audience is economics students, however since the release of The Econocracy
we have noticed that we have been getting more from members of the public.
How can an academic bring the debate into his university?
An academic can bring debate into a university through the implementation of two types of pluralism; theoretical and methodological, and introducing interdisciplinary elements into modules. They would show students a range of perspectives, and require them to engage with each perspective critically, thereafter enabling students to develop their own independent judgement theories. They would help students develop a range of tools to grapple with economic questions. Strong practical and intellectual skills which incorporate other abilities such as verbal and written communication to a variety of audiences would help economics students in their future careers. Analytical thinking, problem solving and the application of acquired knowledge and skills to a real-world setting would also benefit students. This is, as well as the mathematical and statistical tools needed. Finally, an academic should include interdisciplinary approaches to allow students to engage with other social sciences and the humanities, for if economics is taught in a vacuum, removed from sociological, political, historical, ethical and psychological content, it cannot be fully understood and discussed. Academics should try and formalise these collaborations with other social sciences and humanities departments so interdisciplinary programs can be built.
These would empower a student to deal with the complexity, diversity and changeability of the real economy.
Question 3: It’s clear that yours is not just a theoretical and academic view. Yours is a pragmatic network/movement that organizes campaigns, projects and events. Can you give us some examples of these?
So there are a few layers to how we campaign and organise. Firstly, we support our local groups to lobby their department for curriculum reform through materials, resources and workshops. Secondly, we support our groups in their events, such as linking up speakers and providing promotional resources and how-to-guides. We often share the activities of local groups on our social media and our website. Many events that we support can be found on the ‘Catch up
’ page of our site, but notable examples include the recent RE workshop held by our Zimbabwe group, the Post-Truth Economics Conference held at Goldsmiths University UK, and the Critical Economics Summit held in Bologna.
We also host central events, such as organiser strategy days, campaigning days, residential weekends, and larger conferences, such as our yearly Strategy weekend held in Edale, UK, or our large conferences in New York in 2014 and London in 2015. We collaborate with larger institutions to host larger events, such as the Bank of England and the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s Young Scholars Initiative (INET’s YSI). Finally, we create and collaborate with our members to create pluralist resources. These have been collaborated into a textbook which is to be released this Autumn.
Question 4: One of your most important principles, perhaps the inspirational one, is “openness.” Can you explain to us how does it work and in which way it is carried out? What are the other principles the movement is based on?
I think ‘openness’ relates to a number of our values. Firstly, we are open to anyone and everyone, and you can join us for free. You don’t have to be an academic to get behind our mission. This relates to another one of our principles, which is to be a horizontal organisation. This means that we practice consensus-based decision making though one of our working group committees. Committees available to join include Communications, Finance + Funding, Public Education (where we review content from ecnmy.org
), Membership and Campaigns. Once one becomes a member of RE, they can join anyone of these committees and get involved with some real strategy and governance decisions. Finally, ‘openness’ can also relate to our approach to the economics discipline. We are open to many schools of thought, critical economic perspectives, methodologies, and to academic disciplines outside of economics.
Question 5: So Rethinking Economics was formally founded in 2013. How has the movement grown since then? How many countries, professors, students activists are now involved? What are the countries where the movement has grown more? What are the universities and economic centres, which are proposing new approaches to economic study?
We now have 53 groups in 22 countries across the world, comprising of hundreds of organisers, with 11 member groups
in Italy. The wider Rethinking network is even larger with 4.1k subscribers to our newsletter, 14.3k followers on Twitter
, 17.7k likes on our main Facebook page
and 8.4k members on our RE community page. Since 2013 strong national networks have been established in the Netherlands, Italy and Norway. More recently we’ve been experiencing growth in Africa, South-America and Scotland. Our newest national network REIN (Rethinking Economics India) was founded in February and we’re currently working on establishing national presences in Australasia and the US. RE has no borders, our campaign resonates with people and economics students from all over the globe - no matter where they live or where they’re learning, they all agree that economics needs rethinking.
We are currently in the process of creating a thoroughly researched pluralist ranking of Universities within the UK, with a methodology based on the one that we used for the Econocracy
. Certain universities that stick out to be quite pluralist for undergraduate curriculums include the University of Leeds and Greenwich, Goldsmiths and Kingston Universities, and the Universities of Manchester and Cambridge have introduced real-world modules. Nottingham and Oxford have both introduced online MOOCs, and we are currently creating our own online MOOC with economists Ha-Joon Chang and Lord Robert Skidelsky.
Question 6: What about Italy? What do you suggest to people who want to join the movement in Italy and change the way economics is approached in Universities and political institutions?
We have a huge network in Italy, and we actually came over last month
for the Critical Economics Summit in Bologna! If you’re interested in joining up with your local group in Italy, you can find your nearest group on our interactive map
. When I last checked there were 11 RE groups within Italy, however if there isn’t a group near you, and you want to start one, then please email us at !
Once you become part of a group, you will be able to help organise and attend conferences, and we can help you with strategies and resources in lobbying your University to achieve the change we all want to see.
Question 7: In which way do you think economics can help resolve some of the most important today’s challenges: 1) Ecological Crisis and Climate Change; 2) growing inequality around the word; 3) geopolitical stability and keeping peace around the world?
1) Ecological Crisis and Climate Change
The best way economics can help deal with Climate change is by incorporating the environment as intrinsic to the economy rather than separate to it. This is the debate between Ecological and Environmental (neoclassical) economics. The difference between the environmental neoclassical and ecological understandings of the economy revolves around neoclassical (environmental) economics being underpinned by an individualistic world with no limits, where natural resources are one of many inputs for production, wants are endless, welfare is primarily a function of material consumption, and growth in the size of the economy is the primary objective. In contrast, the vision underpinning ecological economics is a world where the economy is a subsystem of the ecosystem (and the social system) and where well-being is determined by a range of factors, only some of which are quantifiable. The neoclassical framework only judges the environment to be valuable if it impacts on humans (which impact us judged by the assignment of a monetary value) where the ecological framework sees the environment as valuable in and of itself
. Ecological economists dispute that economic can be compared to ecological costs by being given a monetary value in cost-benefit analysis and climate models because the environment, like the ozone layer and rainforests, have functions in their ecosystems that cannot be replaced. It therefore takes into account the limitations on the resources that can be extracted and the waste that can be emitted, while maintaining ecological stability. If we can adopt ecological economics in policy making we may see a radical shift in dealing with Climate Change.
2) Growing inequality around the word
In sum, a more critical, pluralist and real-world economics education would provide tomorrow’s policy makers with the right tools to deal with the many issues surrounding different global inequalities that we see today. This includes the discussions revolving around definitions of inequality, roots out of poverty and the meaning of ‘development’ itself. One example would be that, assuming that GDP growth reduces inequality - which is a debate in itself
- if heterodox values that relate to the global redistribution of wealth became part of mainstream development policy advice, such as import substitution industrialization (ISI) and other infant industry policies, then the levels of global inequality between the Global North and South could be reduced as the economies of the South could achieve a higher GDP growth
Regarding the income inequalities seen domestically, a better economics education would allow policymakers to question and adapt economic models to incorporate values that relate to human needs, (other than efficiency) that could lower inequality.
3) Geopolitical stability and keeping peace
Economic theory has likewise informed national government’s and the international community’s interventionary peacekeeping and peacebuilding policy around the world as neoclassical ideology has dominated UN, World Bank and IMF policies and advice. This can be witnessed in the changing nature of interventionary activity in the former Yugoslav nations, Afghanistan and Iraq, where NGOs and private companies were provided with greater autonomy and larger portions of the funding to direct peacebuilding efforts. However the medium- and long- term results of these sorts of strategies are now coming under question, as there are growing calls in the international community for greater participation of local voices, a greater appreciation for local economic and cultural customs alongside greater concern for prioritising sustainability over growth. These sorts of challenges can only be tackled by considering a plurality of economic theories and greater interdisciplinarity approached.
Question 8: What are your main future projects?
This autumn we can look forward to our international pluralist conference with INET’s YSI, the release of our pluralist textbook and a special one - off event we are working on with the Bank of England. In 2018 we have our central conference and a summer school lined up. Beyond this we are looking forward to our employers report and our pluralist ranking of UK Universities.
The Econocracy: The Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts, Earle, Moran and Ward-Perkins 2016
Herman Daly, Ecological Economics
See Shanin, T. (1997) The Idea of Progress, Escobar, A. (1995) Encountering Development: the making and unmaking of the Third World, Piketty, T., 2014. Capital in the 21st Century and Bush, R. (2007) Poverty and Neoliberalism: Persistence and reproduction in the global south
Ha-Joon Chang (2002), Kicking Away the Ladder
Become a Long Term Economy Supporter!!
Long Term Economy is a non profit organization aiming at improving the wellbeing in a long-term perspective by preserving the natural, cultural and social capital.