Is There a Future for Heterodox Economics?

October 23, 2023

Paper | This paper assesses economics research and teaching frameworks in the United States by examining how knowledge is produced and ranked, the flaws and strengths of heterodox economic theory; and how students are trained, especially for careers in economic policy. 

By: Teresa Ghilarducci, Zachary Knauss, Richard McGahey, William Milberg, Drew Landes

This study considers how the field of economics has developed to help the public understand capitalism. Challenges to orthodox theory need to be analytically sound and many economists, in and out of the so-called mainstream, want their work to be the basis for economic justice, democracy, and environmental sustainability. Despite a record length of economic recovery since the trough of the Great Recession in 2008, there is concern about a repeat of the financial crisis. All of this angst is reflected in a wave of nationalism, xenophobia, protectionism and a deep political divide. (Stiglitz 2019 has argued that this divide has itself exacerbated existing economic inequities.) Economics should be a tool both to understand and address these problems, but in spite of successful individual analyses around issues like minimum wage, climate change, trade, inequality, and discrimination, the methodological core of modern economics is relatively untouched. Alternative or ‘heterodox’ visions have achieved littletraction in most economic departments, and modern economics is isolated from other social sciences and fields of inquiry. Given the inadequacies of mainstream economics, understanding why alternative visions have not been more successful is of paramount importance. This ambitious project is approached by focusing on what is perceived to be barriers to the success of existing alternative economic theories and policies. Three types of barriers are considered: (1) the hegemony of neoclassical economics within the economics profession; (2) limits of heterodox economics itself; and (3) weaknesses in pedagogical practices of heterodox economics from high school and community college teaching through graduate training. 

Read the paper in the Journal of Philosophical Economics