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from  post-autistic economics newsletter : issue no. 8, September, 2001


An International Open Letter 

to 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 professors from
twenty-two nations who gathered for a week of discussion on the state of economics and
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 for
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, have developed
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

ahistorical 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 analysis

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 phenomena, are
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 social or
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 ends. 

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 inescapably
involved in scientific inquiry and in making scientific statements, whether consciously or
not. This acknowledgement enables a more sophisticated assessment of knowledge claims.

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 the realism
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 analyzing
data alongside econometrics and formal modelling.  Observation of phenomena from
different vantage points using various data-gathering techniques may offer new insights
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 disciplines,
particularly the social sciences.

Although strong in developing analytic thinking skills, the professional training of
economists has tended to discourage economists from even debating – let alone
accepting – the validity of these wider dimensions. Unlike other social sciences and
humanities, there is little space for philosophical and methodological debate in the
contemporary profession. Critically-minded students of economics seem to face an
unhappy choice between abandoning their speculative interests in order to make
professional progress, or abandoning economics altogether for disciplines more
hospitable to reflection and innovation. 

Ours is a world of global economic change, of inequality between and within societies, of
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 morally
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 economics can


 (2001) “An International Open Letter (to all economics departments)”, post-autistic economics newsletter : issue no. 8, September, article 1.


Signatories of the Cambridge Proposal are posted at:

Signatories of the "Kansas City Proposal" are posted at: