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On Tuesday 26 March, WEAll Scotland teamed up with Rethinking Economics to co-host an event in Edinburgh discussing economics education and how Scotland can champion a more pluralist approach to economics.

Rethinking Economics is a WEAll member, and comprises an international network of students, academics and professionals building a better economics in society and the classroom.

The event was full of students, civil society professionals, academics and interested members of the public keen to discuss economics curriculum reform.

The panel was chaired by Ross Cathcart from Rethinking Economics, and included:

  • Gary Gillespie, Chief Economic Adviser, Scottish Government
  • Professor Robert McMaster, Professor of Political Economy, University of Glasgow
  • Lovisa Reiche, Rethinking Economics and APEG Member; Economics Student at University of Aberdeen
  • Dr. Katherine Trebeck, Research Director, Wellbeing Economy Alliance

Gary Gillespie kicked off by explaining his background as an academic economist who joined government to try to apply his economics skills to real world issues, particularly health issues in Scotland. Gary was clear that the central objective of the Scottish Government economics directorate is to improve economic and other outcomes for the people of Scotland. He said: “as an academic economist, I used to use policy to show how good the models were, not the other way around!” In later remarks, he stressed the importance of being responsive to the issues of the day, and of the need for economics and other graduates working in the public sector to be motivated by real world concerns.

Katherine Trebeck was clear that economics is at its best when it is pluralist and not “constrained by narrow bandwidths”. She re-imagined the famous Ronald Reagan quote (“the only limits to growth are the limits to our imagination”), saying that our imaginations are presently limited by fixation on growth but can go further. However, it’s not just a question of growth or no growth, but of opening minds – which the university system is particularly well placed to do. She also raised the question of elitism in economics, calling for people from a more diverse range of backgrounds to engage in the topic both as a degree subject and a career.

Robert McMaster explored the interplay between ethics and economics – which, he says, not enough economists are interested in doing. As a Professor who has taught economics at university level for a number of years, he believes that issues start on day one when students are required to focus straight away on “economic scarcity vs. unlimited wants”. He implored the audience to consider that economics, as currently taught, “tacitly condones those who wish to shape our wants”, and ignores power structures beyond market power.

Fourth year Economics undergraduate student Lovisa Reiche had the last word. In her view, economics should be about creating a system that works for as many people as possible. She said: “Economics isn’t all bad: but there are clear problems in the way it is being taught”. For Lovisa, some of the teaching has felt “artificial” and far removed from recognisable human behaviour and values. Frustrated with what she perceives to be the stripping away of relevance from the subject and profession, Lovisa and her fellow students at Aberdeen University have been campaigning for changes – from simple shifts in focus to curriculum overhaul.

The panel coalesced around the notion of the political coming back into economics – though none of them advocate losing the technical rigour of the subject. As Gary summarised, however, “what’s the point of economics if it’s not about addressing the big challenges we’re facing?”

Spirited questions from the audience continued the conversation, and it was clear that nobody wanted the discussion to end! It doesn’t have to: keep up with the work of Rethinking Economics and support the campaign for economics curriculum reform.

You can also find out more about the Scottish Government’s approach to wellbeing economics and the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership here.

Guest blog by Henry Leveson-Gower, Promoting Economic Pluralism

As a follow-up to our blog for WEAll from last December, we wanted to invite you to join the online dialogue about an accreditation scheme for masters programmes taking a pluralist approach to economics. The dialogue is now open and live here.

We are currently debating what teaching pluralism in understanding the economy should be about. You can get a flavour of the debate so far here. Please join by going to the page linked above and have your say in this discussion.

We promise, the platform is set up so it won’t take up much of your time! Have a look at the short introductory video (<7mins; also on the page linked above) & find out how you can contribute your own ideas, vote on other people’s ideas or express your views about them in the form of points in favour or against them.

Some of you may not have the time to read the full blog above, but still want to get some more general information about this project first. In this case you can always go to our website to find out about why we think the co-creation of this scheme is crucial for the creation and enhancement of genuine wellbeing economies.

Don’t miss this opportunity to set common standards for pluralist economics education worthy of its name. We need your input so this scheme is truly co-created. So please join!

If you don’t have time right now, you can always sign up here to keep in touch with the debate and join later.

Guest blog by Henry Leveson-Gower and Teresa Linzer (Promoting Economic Pluralism)

Post the Crash, we seemed set for economic revolution. 10 years later and here we are – still waiting, entangled in an economic system that is just as addicted to GDP growth as it was 10 years ago. So, how best to bring about the long overdue revolution? What ways are there to contribute to shifting and opening up the narrow systemic focus, from mere growth for its own sake to sustainability, wellbeing and genuine prosperity?

At Promoting Economic Pluralism, we think that part of the answer is changing economics education. The language of economics is the language of power and many students are required to learn it both in economics departments and as part of interdisciplinary masters. At the moment it is generally taught as if there was only one way of thinking about economics and that certainly involves endless growth.

However that is not true of all courses: some lecturers are more pluralist in how they teach economics. This means recognising that there is more than one way of thinking about the economy and encouraging critical reflection. These lecturers draw from a wide range of economic traditions such as ecological, institutional, complexity and post-Keynesian economics. Although this is often referred to as new economics, in fact its roots go back to the 1930s and further. There is a wealth of scholarship and literature, which is largely ignored by the mainstream.

This provides the space for the main economic theology of growth, self-interest, shareholder dominance etc to be challenged. It gives students tools to then question the policy and perspectives based on economic orthodoxy that they are likely to encounter later in work. It also provides ideas on which to base new innovative approaches to tackling the social and environmental challenges we face. Students are likely to come ideas of social enterprise, wellbeing, ecological limits and more, that mainstream economics would ignore.

We are therefore planning to raise the profile and legitimacy of these types of courses so students are encouraged to join them and other universities are encouraged to put them on.

We have chosen to start with masters courses as university departments have much more flexibility over what they can teach at this level. Students from these courses will also be entering the ‘real world’ very soon to use their learning.

There are many departments and centres teaching these courses as can be seen here. It is happening in the same high ranking universities where the economic departments themselves defend the status quo. However the courses have a whole range of labels. For the uninitiated, it is not obvious they take a pluralist approach to economics.

Hence we want to co-create an accreditation system so they can have a common identity and ‘brand’.  The point of this is not to determine what economics is ‘right’ or which courses are ‘best’. It is to build a shared sense between those inside and outside of academia of what economic teaching looks like that fosters creativity and critical thinking to address real world issues and genuinely transform the economic system. Then potential students can easily and confidently find these courses.  We will also of course work closely with Rethinking Economics and the student movement to magnify this effect.

To turn this idea into reality, we want to invite you to participate in actually co-creating the scheme.

This doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to get involved in the detail or devote huge amounts of time to it. We will ensure people can give their views on the principles and broad approach as easily as possible. Please sign-up here to be involved and if you first want to find out more, sign up for a webinar here. And please make sure to also register your public support for this initiative here! It is crucial that we demonstrate a diverse and wide-ranging support for this initiative. Your voice matters.

Join a webinar.

For more info about why we think this is the road to much needed change in economics check out our website and have a look at our latest blog here.

An economist, a songwriter and a puppet designer walked into a recording studio.

What came out? An economics puppet rap battle, of course.

In a one-of-a-kind collaboration, puppet designer Emma Powell, musician Simon Panrucker, and renegade economist (and WEAll Ambassador) Kate Raworth have created a surreal musical puppet adventure to challenge the heart of outdated economic thinking.

Their 7-minute video stars puppets pitched in a rap battle with their economics professor. The project’s aim is to equip economics students and teachers with a playful but insightful critique of Rational Economic Man, the outdated depiction of humanity at the heart of mainstream economic thought.

A synopsis of the storyline:

Dissatisfied with the model of man presented in their economics lesson, three students visit their professor and embark on a rap battle to debate the very nature of humankind. While the professor argues that Economic Man – a rational, self-interested, money-driven being – serves the theory well, the students counter that a more nuanced portrait reflecting community, generosity and uncertainty is now essential. A musical puppet adventure challenging the heart of outdated economic thinking ensues.

Kate Raworth is the author of the internationally acclaimed book Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist (Penguin Random House, 2017). ‘One of the most dangerous stories at the heart of 20th century economics is the depiction of humanity as rational economic man’ she says, ‘He stands alone, with money in his hand, ego in his heart, a calculator in his head and nature at his feet. In making this video, we wanted to make clear – as playfully as possible – that this absurd portrait is deeply out of date.’

The project was funded by the Network for Social Change and the video is being disseminated widely online. A full set of the lyrics is available for teachers and students who want to bring the details of the debate to life in the classroom.

Blog by Lisa Hough-Stewart

I was thrilled to be part of the international Rethinking Economics summer gathering earlier in August.

Rethinking Economics (RE) is an international network of students, academics and professionals aiming to build better economics education and thus contribute to transformation of the economic system.  RE is a WEAll member and we headed to their gathering to explain what WEAll is doing and our vision, and make connections between the work of RE and the wider movement.

This was a really special event – by the time I arrived on day 4, the participants were clearly a really tight group. Despite having already had four intense days of strategic planning and plotting to change the world, energy and enthusiasm levels were through the roof. I reckon there are a few world changers in this group!

I supported Rowan from RE to run the opening session on day five, encouraging students to work in their national or regional groups to use power mapping tools. They each mapped out the different external stakeholders who have influence over their university curriculum and came up with strategies for working with at least one of these to create change in the new semester. The depth of strategic thinking was really impressive for a short session!

Then it was time to deliver a presentation on what WEAll is all about and I was delighted to have a packed room full of people curious to learn about us. I started by asking everyone to say what they think a wellbeing economy is or includes, and the answers were brilliant – all completely in line with WEAll’s definitions! (see the photo) It was great to get an overwhelmingly positive response to my short workshop, and a wee queue of students keen to discuss collaboration at the end.

Myself and the other presenters were swept up in the busy afternoon of workshops, and I had so much fun as part of Team Meme Machine creating memes that RE can use during the #10yearson campaign (watch this space). We were also grateful to be welcomed into the brilliant (late night!) closing party, complete with quiz and talent show. These Rethinkers know how to have fun.

It seemed there was a meaningful connection with WEAll to be made with every Rethinking Economics group, and the other presenters I spoke with to – being part of this incredible Gathering made me more sure than ever that WEAll as an alliance to connect the wellbeing economy movement is really needed. It also gave me a real boost that with the energy and talent that already exists within the movement, we really can succeed in our ambitious goals.