from post-autistic economics newsletter :
issue no. 8, September, 2001
International Open Letter
all economics departments
“The Kansas City Proposal” To sign this and the
"Cambridge Proposal" at the same time, see below.
Economics needs fundamental reform – and now is the time for change.
This document comes out of a meeting of 75 students, researchers and
twenty-two nations who gathered for a week of discussion on the state of
the economy at the University of Missouri - Kansas City (UMKC)
this June 2001. The
discussion took place at the Second Biennial Summer School of the Association
Evolutionary Economics (AFEE), jointly sponsored by
UMKC, AFEE and the Center for
Full Employment and Price Stability.
The undersigned participants, all committed to the reform of our discipline,
the following open letter. This letter
follows statements from other groups who have similar
concerns. Both in agreement with and
in support of the Post-Autistic Economics
Movement and the Cambridge Proposal, we believe that economic theory,
inhibited by its
approach and abstract formalist methodology, has provided only a limited
understanding of the challenging complexity of economic behavior. The narrow
methodological approach of economics hinders its ability
to generate truly pragmatic and
realistic policy prescriptions or to engage in productive dialogue
with other social sciences.
All economics departments should reform economics
education to include reflection on the
methodological assumptions that underpin our discipline. A responsible and effective
economics is one that sees economic behavior in its
wider contexts, and that encourages
philosophical challenge and debate. Most immediately, the field of economic
must be expanded to encompass the following:
1. A broader conception of human behavior. The definition of economic man as an
autonomous rational optimizer is too narrow and does not
allow for the roles of other
determinants such as instinct, habit formation and gender,
class and other social factors
in shaping the economic psychology of social agents.
2. Recognition of culture. Economic activities, like all social
necessarily embedded in culture, which includes all kinds of social,
political and moral
value-systems and institutions. These profoundly shape and guide human behavior by
imposing obligations, enabling and disabling particular choices, and creating
communal identities, all of which may impact on economic behavior.
3. Consideration of history.
Economic reality is dynamic rather than static – and as
economists we must investigate how and why things change over time and space.
Realistic economic inquiry should focus on process rather than simply on
4. A new theory of knowledge. The
positive-vs.-normative dichotomy which has
traditionally been used in the social sciences is problematic. The fact-value distinction
can be transcended by the recognition that the investigator’s values are
involved in scientific inquiry and in making scientific statements, whether
not. This acknowledgement enables a more sophisticated assessment of
5. Empirical grounding. More
effort must be made to substantiate theoretical claims
with empirical evidence. The tendency
to privilege theoretical tenets in the teaching of
economics without reference to empirical observation cultivates doubt about
of such explanations.
6. Expanded methods. Procedures
such as participant observation, case studies and
discourse analysis should be recognized as legitimate means of acquiring and
data alongside econometrics and formal modelling. Observation of phenomena from
different vantage points using various data-gathering techniques may offer
into phenomena and enhance our understanding of them.
7. Interdisciplinary dialogue. Economists
should be aware of diverse schools of
thought within economics, and should be aware of developments in other
particularly the social sciences.
Although strong in developing analytic thinking skills, the professional
economists has tended to discourage economists from even debating – let alone
accepting – the validity of these wider dimensions. Unlike other social
humanities, there is little space for philosophical and methodological debate
contemporary profession. Critically-minded students of economics seem to face
unhappy choice between abandoning their speculative interests in order to
professional progress, or abandoning economics altogether for disciplines
hospitable to reflection and innovation.
Ours is a world of global economic change, of inequality between and within
threats to environmental integrity, of new concepts of property and
entitlement, of evolving
international legal frameworks and of risks of instability in international
finance. In such a
world we need an economics that is open-minded, analytically effective and
responsible. It is only by engaging in sustained critical reflection,
revising and expanding
our sense of what we do and what we believe as economists that such an
(2001) “An International Open Letter
(to all economics departments)”, post-autistic economics newsletter :
issue no. 8, September, article 1. http://www.btinternet.com/~pae_news/review/issue8.htm
Signatories of the Cambridge Proposal
are posted at: http://www.paecon.net/peitions/Camproposal.htm
Signatories of the "Kansas City Proposal" are posted at: