Economics - The Queen of the Sciences

You’re entering university at a critical moment.

Capitalism is in crisis. The inability of economists to deal with species extinction, resource depletion and climate change — not to mention the 2008 financial meltdown that blindsided them all — has turned the profession into, well, a bit of a joke. Economists routinely appear near the top of “least-trusted professions” polls. Ordinary people see them, more and more, as inept.

But that’s definitely not the message you’ll get as you file into your Econ 101 class and crack the textbooks.

Your prof will lean on the lectern — in full sageon-the-stage mode — and for a moment a spell will fall across the room. You’ll feel that economics is a respected science — a rigorous discipline with its own immutable laws, proven theories and crop of Nobel laureates.

Don’t be fooled.

You need only scratch a little below the surface to discover that economics is a highly contested field, a discipline whose axioms and credibility are being questioned and contested like never before. The prevailing neoclassical paradigm is crumbling, and a new, more chaotic, more biologically and behaviorally based paradigm is struggling to emerge.

But don’t expect your department to acknowledge this.

Generations of tenured professors have systematically marginalized dissent and eliminated competition.

Your economics department operates very much like a police state — not a free marketplace of ideas in which innovation is acknowledged and rewarded. But outside your department, a vigorous heterodox economics thrives. There are feminist economists, social economists, behavioral economists, ecological economists and thousands of passionate intellectuals and maverick thinkers around the world who are openly critical of the prevailing neoclassical regime and fighting to overthrow it.

So there really are two ways for you to approach your studies over the next few years. You can ignore all of the screaming inconsistencies and accept the status quo. You can cross your fingers and hope the old paradigm has a generation or two left in it, long enough for you to carve out a career. Or you can align yourself from the get-go with the mavericks. You can be an agitator, a provocateur, a meme warrior, an occupier — one of those students who posts flaming messages of dissent online and openly challenges professors in class.

You can bet your future on a paradigm shift.

Become part of the movement that will turn economics into a discipline half way between a science and an art: The Queen of the Sciences.

I wish you, and all of the students coming after you, all the luck in the world.

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