You are entering economics at a critical juncture. The inability of economists to incorporate externalities into their models and to account for phenomena such as species extinction, resource depletion and global warming – not to mention the financial meltdown that blindsided them all – has turned the profession into a target for derision and ridicule. And it’s not just some academic joke – today even ordinary people look down their noses at the ineptitude of economics.
And yet as you delve into your textbooks and listen to the sensible, ordered tone of lectures and come to associate your professors with the accolades that hang from their walls, you may get the sense that economics is a science: a rigorous discipline with its own immutable laws, proven theories and crop of Nobel laureates. Far from it. Though you may be temporarily fooled by this façade, you need only to look beneath the surface to discover that economics is a highly contested field ... a profession whose axioms, principles and credibility are being questioned like never before. The prevailing neoclassical paradigm is crumbling and a new, more chaotic, more biologically based paradigm is struggling to emerge.
But your department, like most others around the world, is still marching in lockstep with the old guard. That’s because generations of tenured professors have marginalized dissenters and eliminated competition. Your university is 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 social economists, feminist economists, interdisciplinary economists, ecological economists and hundreds of intellectuals and maverick professors who are openly critical of the neoclassical paradigm and fighting to overthrow it.
So there are really 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, 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, one of the students on campus who posts heterodox messages up on notice boards and openly challenges professors in class. You can bet your future career on a paradigm shift.
I hope this book inspires you to take the riskier, more exciting path.