The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

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.