As if five jobs weren’t already enough, it was announced yesterday that the former chancellor George Osborne has been appointed as an honorary professor of economics at the University of Manchester. Osborne will not be leading any courses but will be expected to deliver guest lectures. The appointment of an economic policymaker who is not an economist by training makes a bold statement about the way the university wishes to approach the teaching of the subject.
The Post-Crash Economics society of which I am a part has been campaigning for a more real world-focused economics syllabus, and therefore welcomed Osborne’s comments in a recent interview with Research. The former chancellor stated that the “teaching of economics has become a bit too science-like and a bit too theoretical”, and that “people don’t always look for the maximum utility”. Given that one of the main things that we have been asking for in our economics education is for more real-world application, Osborne clearly has common ground with our efforts for this part of curriculum reform.
While Manchester University has stated that Osborne’s position will be unpaid, we still argue that his appointment is a questionable priority. Time and resources should be devoted to expanding the economics syllabus instead. Osborne’s track record demonstrates that he, like the economics curriculum at Manchester, lacks a holistic approach to the economy. While he was chancellor, fiscal economic policy in the UK became very focused on GDP and unemployment levels, which do not take into account inequality, health indicators, educational standards, environmental degradation, job security and many other things that are essential parts of the economy. His austerity policies and legacy have received much criticism from academics and economists for worsening the economic recovery.
His austerity policies have received much criticism from academics and economists for worsening the recovery
We welcome economic policy practitioners into the department who seek to challenge the unrealistic assumptions the models that we are taught often make, but we do not think it goes anywhere near solving the problem. As well as being divorced from the real world, economics degrees are narrow and uncritical, and do not give students sufficient tools and skills to deal with contemporary economic problems. Economics degrees currently train students in neoclassical methods, focusing on individuals and their utility maximisation, rather than encouraging them to critically engage with a range of schools of thought, and making informed, independent decisions about which methodologies are most appropriate for our modern world.
So she welcomes real world practitioners, welcomes inputs not based upon pure theory. But doesn’t welcome a recent Chancellor to give a few unpaid lectures.
Basic logic is one of those things needed to be an economist…..