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Wednesday 11 November 2015

Economics: Past, Present and Future

Southampton Solent University recently hosted around 90 economists who point to mainstream economics’ failure to predict the 2008 crash as evidence that economic thinking needs to broaden and diversify its approach.

“It’s about entertaining new possibilities and new ways of dealing with problems, rather than trying the same thing over and over,” says Professor Nick Potts, Reader in Economics at Southampton Solent and a member of the Association for Heterodox Economics’ organising committee.

Along with his fellow Solent economics lecturer Simon Mouatt, Nick helped bring the association’s 17th annual conference to Solent this summer. The theme of the event was ‘Growth, Cycles, Sustainability’, and delegates from institutions all across the world – Mexico, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, the Czech Republic, the US, Brazil and more – gathered to discuss how economic policies and decisions were inextricably linked with socio-political, business, and environmental issues.

Nick Potts said, “part of the problem is that modern mainstream economic thinking is very narrow, and often refuses to even consider alternative perspectives. After the crash, the Queen went to the London School of Economics to ask ‘why didn’t you see this coming?’ – and they didn’t really have an answer for her.”

Delegates heard from speakers such as Carlos Mallorquin of Mexico’s University of Zacatecas, who spoke on ‘The Sustainable Development Labyrinth’.

The conference also featured plenary sessions on:

  • The future for microeconomics, focusing on how individuals’ choices feed into wider economics, and recognising the social aspects of this process.
  • The banks and society: institutional resilience, macro-stability and social utility, chaired by Solent’s Simon Mouatt and examining how the banking system needs to change to fit the needs of our society.
  • Understanding the crisis, chaired by Nick Potts and featuring Andrew Kliman of Pace University New York, and Geoff Tily of the Trades Union Congress, providing an alternative Keynsian and Marxist perspective on the crisis.

Videos of the plenary sessions are available on the Association for Heterodox Economics’ website.

Encouraging diversity in economics teaching

The conference also aimed to give a voice to students, with the group Rethinking Economics running a workshop for students to discuss curriculum reform and panels on the QAA, reform in the UK, and their experiences of heterodox economics teaching.

Part of the Association for Heterodox Economics’ work involves fighting to ensure QAA benchmark statements for economics education take a more pluralistic economic perspective, and securing recognition for the work of heterodox economists.

“There’s definitely an entrenched institutional position,” Nick Potts said. “Journals not publishing non-orthodox papers, difficulty securing research funding… Students at a lot of economics schools are being taught theory which doesn’t even recognise the possibility of crisis.”

“But some schools are beginning to recognise the need for change – the School of African and Asian Studies in London, Kingston University, Leeds… and at Solent we’ve pioneered a more applied approach, helping students see how economics isn’t just about mathematical modelling – it’s a part of the world.”

“If I took one thing away from the conference,” Nick continued, “it’d be confidence… confidence among the participants that it’s okay to take the view that another world is possible, that more options are possible, and that economics education can change to suit the needs of society and students.”

Spreading the debate

On 27 November Professor Nick Potts will be discussing the nature of our financial system and how it should suit the needs of society, having been invited to speak at an upcoming charity debate on behalf of the British Heart Foundation.

In front of a local community audience at the Great Debate IV, organised by Lord Strathcarron in Buckler’s Hard, Hampshire, Professor Potts and local councillor Andrew Pope will be arguing against the motion ‘This house believes that we should learn to love our bankers’, put forward by Richard Woolhouse of the British Banking Association and Gilles Graham of Citigroup.

To find out more about the event, contact Professor Potts at