The Students' Response (trans. J.
d'économie pertinents: chiche
So the economic teachers
have acknowledged that something is not quite right in the universities (Le Monde, Tuesday, 31 Oct). We are delighted at this belated
awareness. But, even so, we are perplexed at the direction that these
events are taking.
Have we centered our critiques on mathematics? No.
Have we questioned econometrics,
an empirical practice that must be distinguished from formal models? No. On the
contrary, as our open letter states clearly, we are disturbed by
the continuous construction of imaginary worlds; that is, the
intellectual constructs (the famous models) whose relevance remains to
be demonstrated. We also have questioned the manifest lack of
pluralism. So also does the petition of the teachers who support
us and who contest the near total domination of "neoclassical" theory,
whose limits, as well as capabilities, should be clearly presented. One can see
then, that the place of
mathematics is secondary in our demands.
But it is true that the excesses of mathematics combined, in the absence
of pluralism, with imaginary worlds is disastrous. Is it, then, a simple
matter of pedagogy as our critics say? No, surely not, since as we all
know, teaching is not just a matter of teaching methods.
What we ask for is simple: to have the empirical and theoretical tools which
will permit us to understand the world in which we live. Do economics
classes discuss business, the state, or even the market? No. Do they teach us
the operation of the French economy; of Europe; of Japan? No. Do the classes
offered enable understanding of the recent Asian crises, of the
fluctuations of the Euro, or of the reforms in progress for the United
Nations Center on Transnational
Corporations. No. Etc.
All this can be achieved, suggest the economists who oppose our
call for reform, by using a single and unique "scientific"
method. That is to say, one
which proceeds exclusively by the construction of hypotheses, the
development of resulting equations, and then empirical tests
which normally lead to refutation of some theories
and confirmation of others. But the truth is that this ideal
economics is well hidden, since none of us have yet had the good fortune
to encounter it. Textbooks and courses are content to repeat the litanies of
models without questioning them on an empirical basis.
But beyond that, we are sceptical about the relevance of this approach
that wants for itself exclusivity. Should the discipline's
role really be reduced to one of providing statistics, or should it
not equally play a role in the formulations of hypotheses? Can one
abstain from all empirical
observation? Is the input of other disciplines (law, psychology,
sociology, management) really unnecessary for the understanding of the
principal problems of economics? As Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winner for
economics in 1998, said, "It is also necessary to recognise that the
over-use of mathematics can be a sad means that deadlocks those subjects
which are of ongoing importance, even if one cannot translate them into
equations." We are astonished, therefore, to see some
economists appealing to
the scientific character of their discipline, given its meagre
results on "important subjects" (unemployment, globalisation,
fluctuations in the price of oil, etc.).
We desire, then, an end to the pseudo-polemic about mathematics.
Explained clearly and in terms of convincing theories, mathematics are
obviously welcome in the teaching of economics. We are astonished
have to clarify this point. But what must be taught above all, and
which, moreover, some teachers are attempting to do, is the origin of models,
their importance and their consequences in terms of the political economy. In
short, we have had enough of "economics for children" classes,
where the fundamental limits the theories
presented, be they empirical or logical, are only rarely mentioned. Furthermore,
each course should be accompanied by a practical work schedule that allows
the manipulation of proposed models. That is, in fact, the only means of
understanding their logical operation and evaluating their relevance.
A reform of the pedagogy is no doubt one way to renew the appeal of
economic sciences. But that is not sufficient. As with all the
sciences, economics should identify its intellectual origins, its
political plans and the ideologies of its scientists. Nor should it close
itself off to other human sciences, under the pretext of science.
Therefore one must stop taking the students for imbeciles who don't want
to do math any more. The debate is now in the hands of the economists:
Sirs, Madams, would you like to convince us of the relevance of your
theories, of the appropriateness of your science? We ask only that. . . We are waiting.
Movement des étudiants pour la réforme
l'enseignement de l'économie
45, rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris