The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

8.1 Single textbooks appropriate for heterodox 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:

  • 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.

Neither book attempts to reach conclusions about which school of thought is 'best'; rather they allow students to make up their own minds.

However, 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 neoclassical perspective, even when attempts are made to address other views and other ways of thinking. There are some exceptions, however. 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 structure similar to that shown in Table 1a or the right side of Table 4b, 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 which can be applied to different problems.

Earl and Wakeley (2005) offer another resource, designed specifically with parallel 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.