【英语财经】经济学该怎么教? Angry economics students are naive – and mostly right

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2014-5-30 06:37

小艾摘要: Students of economics are in revolt – again. A few years ago, even before the crisis, they established an “autistic economics” network. After the crisis, in 2011, a Harvard class staged a walkout f ...
Angry economics students are naive – and mostly right
Students of economics are in revolt – again. A few years ago, even before the crisis, they established an “autistic economics” network. After the crisis, in 2011, a Harvard class staged a walkout from Gregory Mankiw’s introductory course. That course forms the basis of textbooks prescribed in universities around the world. This year, 65 groups of students from 30 countries established an International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics. In no other subject do students express such organised dissatisfaction with their teaching.

It seems, however, to little lasting effect. Impermanence is inherent in student life: they don suits, collect their first salary and leave their complaints behind until the same gripes are rediscovered by a new group of 19-year-olds with similar naive hopes of changing the world. Still, recurrent dissatisfaction among both students and employers suggests they have a point.

One cause of the problem is not specific to economics. Modern universities prize research above teaching, to a degree that would astonish people outside the system, who imagine its primary purpose is to educate the young. In reality, teaching ability plays a negligible role in university hiring, tenure and promotion decisions. Many academic staff regard teaching as a nuisance that gets in the way of their “own” work. If most students were not having such a good time outside the classroom, they would be angrier than they are. They should be.

A problem specific to economics is that students suspect the material they are taught is designed to offer intellectual cover for rightwing ideology. This belief was plainly the motivation for the Harvard walkout – and there is some truth in the critique. Professor Mankiw was for a time chairman of George W?Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers. Economics teaching encourages students to think of a world of self-interested individuals and profit-oriented company but Prof Mankiw’s conservatism puts him in a minority: in common with academics generally, most economics professors are probably mildly to the left of the political spectrum.

As are their students. The real burden of their complaint is not a political protest. As I did, they chose to study economics in the hope of solving, or at least understanding, real world problems: poverty, inequality, inflation and financial crises. But their classroom experience is narrower and less satisfying than mine was. They find themselves engaged in rote learning of models based on rational choice. They are fobbed off with assurances that acquisition of these skills is a necessary foundation for understanding of the great issues of the day; but somehow these great issues never make it into the curriculum. They suspect, rightly, that many of their teachers are not much interested. This is the burden of a powerful and detailed critique of their course prepared by students at the University of Manchester.

Their demand for more pluralism in the economics curriculum is well made. Yet much of the “heterodox economics” the Manchester students suggest including is flaky, the creation of people with their own political agenda, whether Marxist or neoliberal; or of those who cannot do the mathematics the dominant rational choice paradigm requires. Their professors reject the introduction of these alternative schemes for the same good reasons their science colleagues would reject phlogiston theory or creationism.

Yet teachers are mistaken in their conformity?to a single methodological approach – encapsulated in the claim that has taken hold in the past four decades that approaches not based on rational choice foundations are unscientific or “not economics”. The need is not so much to teach alternative paradigms of economics as to teach that pragmatism, not paradigm, is the key to economic understanding.

This eclecticism is reflected in the curriculum proposals being developed by the Institute for New Economic Thinking , led by Professor Wendy Carlin of University College London, on whose advisory board I sit. The subject of economics is not a method of analysis but a set of problems – the problems that drew students to the subject in the first place. The proper scope of economics is any and all ideas that bear usefully on these topics: just as the proper scope of medicine is any and all therapies that help the patient.

经济学专业的学生们又一次造反了。甚至在还未爆发金融危机的数年前,他们就已建立了一个“后自闭经济学”网络。在危机爆发之后的2011年,哈佛大学(Harvard)的一个班在格雷戈里?曼丘(Gregory Mankiw)的经济学入门课上,上演了集体退席。该课程为世界各地大学所采用经济学教科书的基础课。今年,来自30个国家的65个学生团体创建了“国际学生经济学多元化倡议行动”(International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics)。任何其他学科的学生们都没有如此有组织地表达对教学的不满。

然而,这种运动似乎没啥持久影响。学生生活本质上就是暂时的:他们穿上西服,拿到自己的第一份薪水,就将过去的抱怨抛之脑后,直到新一批19岁的年轻人,同样怀抱改变世界的天真愿望,再次生出同样的牢骚为止。不过,学生和雇主们的抱怨周期性爆发,表明他们的抱怨有一定道理。

导致这种问题的原因之一并非经济学所特有。现代大学对研究的重视程度高于教学,甚至到了让外人吃惊的地步——人们本以为大学的主要目的就是教育年轻人。但在现实中,教学能力在大学招聘、授予终身教职和晋升决定中,仅扮演微不足道的角色。许多教职员工将教学视为影响“本职”工作的麻烦事。如果不是大多数学生在课堂外过得挺开心,他们原本会比现在更加愤怒。他们理应如此。

而经济学特有的一个问题是,学生们怀疑,他们的教科书内容旨在为右翼思想提供理论掩护。这种想法显然是哈佛学生那次集体退席的动机,而这种怀疑也有几分道理。曼丘曾一度担任过乔治?W?布什(George W Bush)的经济顾问委员会(Council of Economic Advisers)主席。经济学教学鼓励学生,将世界想象为由追求自利的个人和逐利的公司组成,但曼丘的保守主义立场让他成为少数派:与学术界的通常情况一样,大多数经济学教授的政治立场都略微偏左。

他们的学生也是如此。他们抱怨的真正任务并非是进行政治抗议。和我当年一样,他们选择学习经济学,是希望解决、或者至少理解真实世界的问题——贫困、不平等、通胀和金融危机。但他们的课堂体验比我当年的更狭隘、也更不让人满意。他们发现自己只是机械地学习那些基于理性选择假设的经济学模型。他们被忽悠称,要想理解当今时代的重大问题,首先就得掌握这些技能;但不知怎么地这些重大问题始终未出现在课程表上。他们不无道理地怀疑,许多教授对此并不太感兴趣。曼彻斯特大学(University of Manchester)学生对经济学课程有力而详细的批评,其任务就在于此。

他们让经济学课程更加多元化的要求提得非常好。然而曼彻斯特大学的学生们提议引入的“非主流经济学”课程有许多内容非常古怪,是有着自身政治议程的人——无论是马克思主义者还是新自由主义者,抑或是那些学不好占据主导地位的理性选择范式所要求的数学的人——想出来的。他们的教授拒绝引入这些非传统课程,理由与理科教授会拒绝教授燃素论或神创论一样。

然而,教授们全都遵从单一的方法论是错误的,这种方法论可用一条过去40年来一直占据主流的结论概括为,不以理性选择假设为基础的方法都是不科学的,或者说“不是经济学”。与其说需要向学生们教授其他的经济学范式,还不如说需要教会他们,理解经济学的关键在于实用主义、而非范式。

这种折中主义反映在“新经济思维研究所”(Institute for New Economic Thinking)建议的课程设置上。新经济思维研究所由伦敦大学学院(University College London)的温迪?卡林(Wendy Carlin)领导,我是该学院的顾问委员会成员。经济学的研究对象不是分析方法,而是一系列能让学生们首先对该学科产生兴趣的问题。经济学的合理范畴,是所有对这些问题有用的想法:正如医学的合理范畴是所有有助于治愈病人的疗法一样。

译者/邹策

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