Great Leap Forward

Breaking into the Mainstream: Can Heterodoxy Do It?

Here’s a short but thoughtful piece on heterodox economics by a researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

By Aaron Steelman

In 2003, administrators at the University of Notre Dame decided to split the Department of Economics into two: the Department of Economics and Policy Studies (DEPS) and the Department of Economics and Econometrics (DEE). Why the divide? In large part because there were significant differences in methodological approaches and fields of study within the department.

Those who considered themselves within the “mainstream” of the profession, generally using a neoclassical framework to examine issues such as economic growth and industrial organization, tended to move to the DEE.

Those whose work was generally considered more “heterodox” or “pluralistic,” employing a variety of methodological approaches to address questions regarding race and gender, inequality, and the development of economic thought, among others, tended to form the nucleus of the DEPS.

Less than a decade later, the DEPS was closed by university administrators and what was simply called the Department of Economics emerged again. Faculty within the DEE tended to neatly fit into the new department, while many faculty members within the DEPS moved to various departments throughout the university.

Developments at Notre Dame reflect divisions within the economics profession more broadly. Heterodox economists have formed roughly 20 associations around the world, including the Union for Radical Political Economics and the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics. Most of their members are considered to be on the left of the political  spectrum and have clustered in a relatively small number of Ph.D. granting institutions around the country, including American University (AU), Colorado State University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass), and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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Steelman ends on a hopeful note:

Will today’s heterodox departments generally stay on the outside looking in at the heart of the profession? Probably for quite some time. But many heterodox economists point to an example from the 1930s and early 1960s. At that time, economists at the University of Chicago such as Milton Friedman and George Stigler led the challenge to the prevailing Keynesian orthodoxy. Within two decades they were at the forefront of the profession and had built Chicago, an already strong department, into a powerhouse. No one is predicting a similar ascendancy for AU, GMU, or UMass, but the more optimistic envision a time when they, too, will find a place within the mainstream of the profession.


2 Responses to “Breaking into the Mainstream: Can Heterodoxy Do It?”

Ben JohannsonDecember 7th, 2014 at 1:39 am

Appears the focus in most departments will continue to be putting applied math and physics majors through, when the field needs historians, anthropologists and psychologists to make meaningful headway. Maybe it will change when the current generation dies off.

BenL8December 8th, 2014 at 2:24 am

In 1964 the average hourly wage was $2.50 an hour, adjusted for inflation $19.15. Today average hourly wage, non-supervisory employees, is $20.74, an increase of about 8% in 51 years. In the same period disposable income per capita increased by 173% from about $13,485 to almost $36,815. While the economy can more than double and while wages stay flat is just normal benign economics to the profession. Inequality is uneventful, unremarkable, and non-detrimental. Here's the St. Louis Fed graph on wages:… — again on Real Disposable Income –