The Economics Network

Improving economics teaching and learning for over 20 years

7. Resources

Again, it is worth pointing out that the volume of resources available online for teaching heterodox, and pluralist economics has grown considerably in the last decade. Of particular note are those available via the Heterodox Economics Directory and the Economics Network TRUE Project.

7.1 Single textbooks appropriate for pluralist modules

A common problem on all modules is that students often demand that their lecture and seminar material be supported by a single textbook. Using a single textbook can have advantages: students can get more out of a book with which they are familiar and a single textbook is generally cheaper than a range of books. This demand presents a problem for modules teaching heterodox content, because unsurprisingly most textbooks – or books able to play that role – are written from the orthodox perspective. However, a few exceptions stand out:

  • Harvey (2015) is adapted from materials used in teaching an introductory module on contending perspectives. Further discussion of his module can be found in section 3 of the curriculum booklet and in Harvey (2014). The book is avowedly pluralist, and begins with a claim that speaking only one language creates a limited view of human consciousness. Thereafter, it contains a series of chapters on seven different schools of thought, starting with neo-classical economics. It also covers Austrian, Feminist economics, Marxism, New and Old Institutionalism, and Post-Keynesianism. It begins though with a consideration of economics as a science. This opening chapter is meant to problematize notions of truth, but also to establish criteria for assessing different theories: these come principally from logic.
  • Resnick and Wolff (2012) offer a similar approach to Harvey’s. Again, their material is drawn from a module they taught. It is discussed in Resnick and Wolff (2011). They contrast three schools of thought: neo-classical, Keynesian and Marxian. The book’s central premise is that all theories have what they call an ‘entry point’ and logic. For example, they say neo-classical theory’s entry point is individual humans’ desires and capabilities. This is tied, they say, to determinist cause and effect relations. Similarly, Keynesian and Marxian theories have theirs. By considering these questions first, no one theory is prioritised, and each one can be compared according to accepted criteria.
  • Dow (1996) takes a methodological approach to examining schools of thought in macroeconomics. The advantage of this is that many of the differences between schools are methodological; and compare/contrast questions are often answered well if they address key methodological themes, such as predictive capability, the nature of the individual, etc. rather than merely expositing the two views and then attempting a contrast.
  • Snowdon, Vane and Wynarczyk (1998) is another text aimed at higher-level macroeconomics students and, like Dow, it outlines different schools of thought.

These books eschew reach conclusions about which approach is ‘best’; rather they allow students to make up their own minds.

Heterodox concepts are most effective when the student is exposed to them early and often. Thus, some introductory texts would be useful. Again, most of the textbooks on the market tend to be written from a neo-classical perspective, even when attempts are made to address other views and other ways of thinking. There are some exceptions, however. Chang (2014) offers a commentary on modern economics. Stretton (1999) is a book aimed at an introductory level student. It is interesting in a number of ways, principally because of the order of its chapters.

  • Rather than adopt a conventional module structure, the book comprises sections (each containing several chapters) on ‘studying economics’, economic growth, demands, productive institutions, distributive institutions and economic strategy.
  • Crucially, Stretton places an early emphasis on method and on the history of thought. This immediately impresses on the reader that economics is a changing subject. This encourages the student not to think of theories as fixed and correct forever.
  • Significantly also, Stretton introduces schools of thought: not as objects to be studied in depth, but as ways of thinking that can be applied to different problems.

Earl and Wakeley (2005) offer another resource, designed specifically with contending perspectives in mind. It is explicitly practical, pragmatic and pluralist. Its focus is on business decision making and it deals particularly with dynamic problems of firm start-up, maintenance and rejuvenation. It embraces both orthodox and heterodox, where heterodox is defined as a synthesis of behavioural, Post-Keynesian and evolutionary approaches. Its main resource is a set of applied contemporary-real world examples. Significantly, like the Kemp and Wunder simulation discussed above, the book develops an analysis on entrepreneurship. In other ways, the book reflects both traditional courses and heterodox concerns. For instance, one of its first topics is markets; however, the same chapter also deals with the nature of economic models. That then reflects the traditional order of modules but embraces the heterodox concern with methodology.

Dorman (2014) offers twin books which offer pluralist ways to teach microeconomics and macroeconomics. Both books emphasise critical thinking and understanding theories in context. They both also attempt to update the textbook with new evidence and current research. For instance, a large portion of the macroeconomics book presents evidence about the international macroeconomic environment. These data would clearly need to be updated: but this is an opportunity for learning via research. These books do not eschew orthodox material, but it is taught in a more realistic and policy relevant fashion than is often the case with textbooks.

Similarly, Fine (2016) offers a pair of companion books on microeconomics and macroeconomics which explicitly seek to deliver orthodox material in a critical way, drawing on heterodox material. These books are particularly useful for orthodox-plus modules. The macroeconomics edition (Fine and Dimakou, 2016) is also useful as a primer to heterodox theory.

7.2 The multiple resource approach

The utility of a single textbook approach can be questioned, of course. Using only a textbook can discourage students from reading widely, and to think that they can rely on one text – no matter how many times they are told the contrary. A single book can also encourage the belief that there is only one way of thinking; in the context of this chapter that is a serious problem.

An alternative approach could require students to buy several key texts. Barone (1991) reports that students were expected to buy one book per perspective studied, for example Dugger (1984) on institutionalism and Littlechild (1978) on the Austrian approach. Such a strategy will usually come up against a cost constraint. The modules described in section 3 of the curriculum booklet adopted this approach and encountered that constraint. See also the mixed resource approach in Figure 9 of that booklet.

7.3 Using a reader

An alternative is to adopt a reader. Snowdon, Vane and Wynarczyk (1998) is one such readymade reader. Heilbroner’s Teachings from the Worldly Philosophy (1997) is another. However, another option is to construct a reader from key texts, perhaps including short handouts and newspaper articles. This has the disadvantage of being a little labour-intensive but has the distinct advantage – assuming copyright issues have been resolved – of providing the students with key material in a manageable format. A danger is that the students will regard this as an exhaustive list of readings, but nonetheless it might constitute more reading than they would otherwise have done.

Using readers is one strategy advocated by Earl (2000) and adopted by Bucknell University. One of their readers is available as Schneider et al. (2005).