The world has changed, the syllabus hasn’t – is it time to do something about it?
My Masters at LSE finished over a year ago today, but I’ll never forget the final lecture I had covering financial crises. We had a little on Bagehot, but focused mostly on the Asian Financial Crisis. The savings glut which followed the late-90s crisis was pretty instrumental in pushing up American house prices.
We discussed the dot-com boom and crash and then we reached the mid-2000s and I thought “we’re getting awfully close to 11 o’clock” and then the lecture ended. My flaber was well and truly ghasted. This was 2011! They’d had three years to add it in but hadn’t bothered. The lecturer wandered out and there we sat there. All doing Masters because we couldn’t get jobs and hoping to find out why. We were a little disappointed.
At the time I was pretty annoyed, but I was reading a lot of blogs on the crisis, whether Brad DeLong, Scott Sumner, Nick Rowe, Paul Krugman who were linking to Woodford and Gordon. I had a pretty good idea what had happened but I was angry. A ten grand course, I presumed, would educate me more than hobbyist bloggers. Hah! I know better now.
I don’t think I was being indoctrinated though. I certainly don’t think that there was any ideological barriers to preventing the lecture series being rewritten. But an economic history course will have only so many people involved and only so much effort is available.
When your priorities are agricultural productivity in 18th century India or the role of coal prices in the industrialisation of Lancashire rewriting a syllabus might slip down the priorities list. The inclusion of more heterodox economics would be useful, but it also takes a lot of extra work and I understand why I didn’t get a Minskian, Hayekian, Sumnerian and Old, New and Post Keynesian explanations of the crisis. Who has time for that apart from lonely bloggers alone in their rooms tap, tap, tapping away on their keyboards?
“Excuses, excuses!” you cry. But less cynical people call them “reasons” and I have more sympathy now than I had then. Post-Crash Economics is a great initiative and I wish I’d started something similar when I was a student. Of course, if you don’t ask you don’t get and if you need something from an organisation you better get organised. Best of luck to them.