Marking the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s challenge to the established church, the New Weather Institute and campaign group Rethinking Economics, with input from a wide range of economists, academics and concerned citizens, are challenging the mainstream teaching of economics and publishing the call for a new reformation in 33 Theses for an Economics Reformation.
Five hundred years ago in Europe, a single belief system dominated all public discourse: Catholic Christianity. Those held to be experts in this set of beliefs held immense power, since it enabled them to claim unique authority in all matters – from the rules of behaviour, to the right to rule. Kings and Queens listened to their advice, and feared their criticism. Intellectuals submitted to the confines of their ideology, as to break free from it took exceptional imagination and courage. Ordinary people may have had misgivings, but the priests protected their theories by speaking in a language that the public could not understand, concealing any contradictory evidence.
There is now a similar situation in Neoclassical economics. It has developed as a belief system does, deriving all its theories from some founding principles which themselves pass unquestioned. It’s come to dominate public debate and decision-making; and its proponents claim special authority to pronounce on all matters – from money and savings to migration and sovereignty. Its teaching has taken on the characteristics of indoctrination: students are asked to memorise and repeat rather than to criticise and evaluate. Those who dispute its fundamental theories are ignored or marginalised. Its apparently sophisticated mathematical language presents to the public a veneer of expertise, while obscuring value judgements, guesswork and uncertainty which is, at times, as unworldly as any belief system based on faith.
Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther broke the grip of the monopolistic belief system of his time, with ’95 theses’ setting out its faults clearly in the common language, making them plain for all to see, and proposing the beginnings of a new way forward. We propose a new 33 Theses for an Economics Reformation.
This text originally appeared at the New Weather Institute
“Time for an economics reformation!” demanded students and top economists on December 12th 2017.
To mark 500 years since the Catholic Reformation, students convene top economists to bring down the ‘religion’ of economics
- Economics is broken. From climate change to inequality, mainstream (neoclassical) economics has not provided the solutions to the problems we face and yet it is still dominant in government, the Bank of England, academia and other economic institutions. It is time for a new economics.
- The 33 Theses, produced by students, economists, and academics convened by Rethinking Economics and the New Weather Institute, endorsed by top economists and political leaders such as Caroline Lucas MP, outlines a detailed critique of mainstream economics.
- Esteemed economists Mariana Mazzucato, Kate Raworth, Steve Keen, alongside student Sally Svenlen from Rethinking Economics, took part in an event on Tuesday 12th December chaired by Larry Elliott, Economics Editor at the Guardian, discussing the 33 theses and demanding reform.
After the event participants, panelists and students marched to the doors of the London School of Economics (LSE) to pin their Theses (attached) and demand the reformation.
Student Sally Svenlen:
(left to right) Andrew Simms (New Weather Institute), Sally Svenlen (RE), Larry Elliott (Guardian), Steve Keen (Debunking Economics) and Kate Raworth (Doughnut Economics), pinning the 33 Theses to the doors of LSE.
Caroline Lucas MP, Co-Leader of the Green Party, “Rethinking Economics are absolutely right to say that a better economics isn’t just possible, but essential. For too long now the political mainstream has worshipped at the altar of neoliberal economics, as if it’s the only way of doing things. Such a blinkered approach is clearly wrong, and it’s brilliant Rethinking Economics are widening the debate and bringing in fresh ideas”
Ha-Joon Chang, University of Cambridge, and author of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism and Economics: The User’s Guide, “Neoclassical economics plays the same role as Catholic theology did in Medieval Europe – a system of thought arguing that things are what they are because they have to be. Like the Reformation 500 years ago, the young economists of Rethinking Economics are challenging the intellectual monopoly, calling for a more pluralistic and inter-disciplinary approach to economics. This is an extremely important and timely intervention made at a juncture that may be the last chance to save mainstream economics from itself, and save the world from mainstream economics. Pay attention.”
Steve Keen, author of ‘Debunking Economics’, “Economics needs a Copernican Revolution, let alone a Reformation. Equilibrium thinking in Economics should go the way of Ptolemaic Epicycles in Astronomy”
Victoria Chick, Emeritus professor of economics at University College London, “In Economics today, the path to Truth is mediated by its priesthood. Economics Reformation, in its Theses nailed to the door of LSE, argue that students should read the scriptures, in all their great variety, for themselves. Thus they will learn that the Pope (formerly Samuelson, now Mankiw) is not infallible and that they must search for Truth in the contest of ideas.”
Student Sally Svenlen, “500 years ago Martin Luther set in motion a movement which would alter the establishment’s practices to its foundations. There are so many people out there who work every day on trying to improve the established economic practices in their own ways. We have brought all these experiences, ideas and energies into one single declaration of how the current economic establishment needs to change. It’s hard to ignore the truth when it’s hanging on your door.”
Rethinking Economics is an international network of students, building a better economics in society and the classroom. Through a mixture of campaigning, events and engaging projects, Rethinking Economics connects people globally to discuss and enact the change needed for the future of economics, and to propel the vital debate on what economics is today. We demand a revolution in the discipline, to ensure that economic discourse at all levels becomes critical, pluralist and grounded in the real world.
The international organisation grew out of grassroots student campaigns, and has developed into a professional body that is powered by and supports a growing network of student groups, economics professionals and like-minded organisations. Together we create positive alternatives, and push for change in university curricula, research agendas, media dialogue and in other institutional power structures that entrench the status quo in economics. At all levels we communicate a compelling alternative vision of public-interest economics for the real world.
The students of Rethinking Economics have protested their studies for the past five years. From lecture walkouts, to the publication of a manifesto for curriculum reform for people to support, to producing their own textbook, to writing ‘the Econocracy’ a book on the history and arguments of the movement.
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