6 Cases

The modules discussed above are a mixture of the hypothetical and the author's experience. However, they also reflect examples of modules which have been offered around the world. In this section, we elaborate on some of these examples. They are grouped into the three categories explored in sections 2 to 4.

6.1 'Orthodox-plus' modules

Two modules at different levels which attempt to enrich an orthodox module with heterodox content are presented in Figure 12. Both are fairly general modules.

Figure 12: Two 'orthodox-plus' modules

Bucknell University, USA, has for many years promoted the teaching of heterodox and pluralist approaches, through its own syllabuses and the production of resources (see below). A Principles module taught there recently illustrates well how a standard module can retain its coherence and cover the material necessary, whilst incorporating heterodox material and concerns. The module in question is a 'survey' module of microeconomic and macroeconomic topics. However, before any of these are considered, the module discusses economic approaches, philosophies and systems, offering an overview of economic development from feudalism to the present, taking a chronological look at significant economic thinkers, principally Smith, Marx, Veblen and Keynes. After this unusual beginning, the module takes on a much more traditional appearance, considering supply and demand, firms, market failure and government intervention on the micro side. An extra twist is added by considering income distribution and poverty as special topics. On the macro side, the module considers unemployment (and underemployment), inflation and GDP, before considering Keynesian, Classical and Monetarist models of the macroeconomy, and international trade and finance. Another novel addition is the discussion of feminist and democratic socialist treatments of macroeconomic policy.

A module on Economic Theory at Curtin University, Australia is a particularly interesting case of an orthodox module being enriched by heterodox content. The module appears orthodox: it covers economic psychology, welfare economics, behavioural economics, game theory, business cycle theory, information economics, economics and the family, and institutional economics. However, the module content is noticeably up to date. A novel feature of the module is that it is taught via the readings of Nobel Prize winners (which anticipates Becker's (2004) criticism of current modules, discussed above). For example, to discuss business cycle theory, students are asked to read selections from Kydland and Prescott's work; similarly, the economics of the family is introduced through Gary Becker's work. This approach allows the students to develop reading skills, read recent high-impact literature, but also, for example through reading Kahneman and Tversky, develop a critique of the orthodoxy. As another example, students are invited to read the feminist economist Julie Nelson in conjunction with Gary Becker's contribution.

More specialist modules can offer further opportunities for 'orthodox-plus' formulations. Often this is necessary given a lack of orthodox material in certain areas, and/or significant heterodox contributions there. For example, a module on economic growth would look rather bare if it comprised only classical models, such as the Harrod-Domar, plus the neoclassical Solow model. An adequate module must also include so-called 'endogenous growth theory', which some regard as being post-neoclassical. Indeed, arguably the theory of cumulative causation - and therefore of Veblen (the originator of the term) and the family of Kaldorian growth models - ought be included in any growth module, given that it is in many ways a precursor to endogenous growth theory. A module at Trinity College, USA, does do so. Drawing on the heterodox theories does not reduce the module's content or technical level.

Other examples include:

  • A module on banking and finance at Stirling University draws on neoclassical theory but, because of the nature of the literature and the relative paucity of orthodox treatments, necessarily draws on heterodox theories of banking and (other) financial institutions.
  • A module on urban planning and design taught at University College, London utilises standard concepts (such as externalities and rent) but does so critically and contrastively.
  • A module on health economics at Aberdeen University although concentrating on orthodox concepts such as markets for healthcare and their failure, healthcare systems and health valuation methods, also introduces heterodox criticisms of those notions plus alternative conceptions.
  • A module on modelling and forecasting the macroeconomy at Wartburg College, USA, is interesting in a similar way. It simply introduces heterodox topics without fanfare. The module focuses on topics and issues and deals with the different theoretical perspectives as necessary. It is mainstream in a sense, but open to different views at different stages. Indeed, its tangible outcomes are technical and (ostensibly) orthodox: students are required to build a macroeconomic model and use it to make forecasts.

6.2 'Heterodox' modules

There are several ways to run heterodox modules. One way is to discuss a specific paradigm. An example of this approach is discussed in Figure 13.

Figure 13: A single-paradigm heterodox module on Post Keynesianism

One example of a coherent module based on one paradigm is a module on Post Keynesian Economics run at Trinity College, USA. The module opens with a discussion of what is Post Keynesianism: this is a key question because this school has been accused of incoherence. The module then considers methodology at some length, focusing on issues surrounding uncertainty, time and equilibrium. Specifically, Post Keynesians hold that the world is fundamentally non-probabilistically uncertain. They hold that economic theories should be predicated on historical (irrevocable) time, rather than the reversible, logical time in orthodox models. They are sceptical about the existence of equilibrium, partly because of history and uncertainty (Robinson, 1980). However, many Post Keynesian models do use equilibrium concepts. Again, there is a conundrum for students, which can generate classroom discussion. The remainder of the module focuses on three main areas of theoretical concern for Post Keynesians: pricing, inflation and money. Throughout the module, the critical reading of articles is stressed and reinforced by the assessment scheme, which includes critical reviews of readings, presented orally to class.

There are other examples of single paradigm modules, particularly on Institutionalism, in the USA. Such modules tend to have specific characteristics:

  • Methodology underpins the institutionalist theory. John Dewey, for example, was a pragmatist philosopher on whom institutionalists draw extensively. Dewey embraced a dialectical method. Similarly, Veblen and others stressed key distinctions in the economy, their maintenance, effects and their breakdown. Other key methodological tenets are the stress on systems, evolution and change, valuation, and the complex nature of the individual. These concepts can then be applied to theoretical issues. A commonly chosen issue is the analysis of work, as developed in particular by Juliet Schor.
  • Material from other disciplines, such as social psychology, is crucial. Students on these institutionalist modules are encouraged to read other disciplines', which is useful for a discussion of human nature, a common feature of institutionalist modules.
  • A historical approach is adopted, usually involving a historical account of economic development, in chronological order, beginning with pre-modern, through modern, on to contemporary economies dominated by large corporations. As institutionalist modules, they focus on the development of institutions over time. Also, their definition of institution is typical of the tradition, being much broader than simply defining an institution as a corporate body; rather, an institution includes habits of thought and of mind.
  • Many courses also involve the integration of ecological concerns into the economics syllabus.

Other angles to take are:

  • Political economy: The Foundations of Political Economy module formerly taught at Michigan State University also adopts a historical approach, and highlights institutions, but focuses more on policy-making. Policy relevance and focus is another heterodox tenet. It partly reflects that in heterodox thought, the distinction between fact and value (positive/normative) is rejected, or at least held less strongly. Economic theories are held to contain value judgements, and even though scientists do attempt to be objective, they are not neutral. This is an important point and one which is raised by Stretton (1999) early in his textbook for principles students. That is discussed below.
  • Parallel heterodox perspectives: A module in Alternative Approaches to Macroeconomic Analysis at Manitoba and a module in Comparative Economic Thought at Galway offer a different way to deliver a heterodox module. Both modules begin with a brief critical presentation of the neoclassical approach, and then proceed into a series of alternatives, including Post Keynesian, Cambridge, Marxian and Institutionalist. There is no attempt here to offer a single, unified heterodox approach. Rather, the different schools of thought are offered individually and students are invited to compare them. The only formal way in which schools are compared and reconciled is the way in which, in the Manitoba module, there is some grouping of alternative theories, such as those which focus on class conflict or policy critique. In both modules, the emphasis is on literature and on critique. The comparative analysis involved is clear, not least from the title of the Galway module.
  • A single coherent heterodox approach: Goodwin and Harris (2001) present a heterodox microeconomics module, based on a microeconomics text called Microeconomics in Context. They are advocating a new paradigm: contextual economics, which combines elements of ecological, feminist, institutionalist, Marxist, radical, and even (reconfigured) neoclassical economics which attempts to synthesise elements of those parts. Their position is that orthodox micro systematically ignores issues of context, particularly ecological issues (a common complaint). When the text presents standard microeconomic concepts, they are always positioned in the relevant contexts. Thus, the module structure focuses on a series of topics: the relationship between wealth, consumption, well-being and ecological balance; historical perspectives on capitalism; markets, industrialisation and culture; household labour and child rearing; trends in corporate growth and market power; wage differentials and income inequality; and environmental externalities and intergenerational equity.

6.3 'Parallel perspectives' modules

A module on the Economics of Social Issues at Eastern Illinois University is discussed in Figure 14.

Figure 14: A Parallel perspectives module

The module begins with a discussion of alternative economic perspectives. The first topic considered is reasons why economists disagree. In discussing sources of disagreement, the module achieves several goals immediately: it establishes different bases for disagreement, such as logical coherence or evidence; it considers ideological bases for disagreement; and it suggests that disagreement is possible and perhaps desirable. The module then considers three competing perspectives: conservative, liberal and radical, which are then taught in parallel throughout. The choice of paradigms in this case reinforces the political economy feel of the module; however, in principle the paradigms chosen may be conventional economic schools of thought. The choice will depend on the student cohort.

The module then moves on to consider issues. It first considers whether agriculture should be protected or left open to free markets. This question was asked of American students, but given the Common Agricultural Policy and the welter of literature on it, translating the discussion to European students is easy. Choosing topics such as that one, or indeed, as the module goes on, consumer sovereignty, environmental issues, regulation, income distribution and welfare reform, engages students in a way which traditional theory-based teaching may not. More than that though, the parallel perspectives approach enlivens each topic by showing students that the issues are contested, and the many sides of the debate; and also that each side of the debate may have good points to make and some logical and/or evidential basis. But it also encourages students to identify different perspectives and to offer criticisms of them. That activity is encapsulated in the writing assignments used in the module. In those assignments (one per topic), students were expected to find a newspaper article on the specific topic and present a critique of it. That critique should include the identification of the writer's perspective; the recognition of the bases being used to make the argument; an examination of whether the writer interrogates counterarguments to his or her own; and the highlighting of emotive or persuasive language used by the writer. What the student presents is a sophisticated analysis of the writer's rhetoric. This is a clear benefit of the parallel perspectives approach.