In November, I had the occasion to host a session at the Dutch economics education week on integrating doughnut principles into university economics courses. The whole week consisted of meetings, activities, and presentations all over the country, to rethink the way we teach economics at different levels.
During my session, I presented first the seven principles, making the connection with what can be changed in our programmes/courses design and content in economics, before showing a concrete example with a University-wide elective I teach on economics and sustainable development. The discussion following the presentation was great. Lecturers from different programmes and universities were strongly interested. We started talking about what we do already, what can/should be done, and exchange advises also as several participants were at the stage of designing courses and were reflecting on how to integrate these principles into their courses. Very fruitful exchanges that will lead to more long-term collaboration, and I hope to spread the word even more!
University economics programmes in the Netherlands
In 2020, the OECD published its report on Beyond Growth and established the need to develop a new conception of economic and social progress, through new frameworks of economic theory and analysis, to formulate new approaches to economic policy. Many have been fighting to transform the economics field and the way we teach economics at Universities, but it is hard to get heard. We can see changes in different places and departments, but economics programmes are very slow to change. Recently, Rethinking Economics NL evaluated economics programmes in Dutch Universities, showing a difficult picture, with such a strong lack of pluralism and diversity.
It is also about my own experiences, being a political economist teaching in an economics department.
‘You know, because I am an economist, I think in terms of money’.
‘You know, because we are economists, we don’t really like regulations.’
Two sentences I heard from students in my department recently. I think it is very revealing about the way we teach economics and we train the economists of the future… So let’s change this!
Translating the seven principles into design and content
Changing the goal: the fetishism around GDP growth has been disastrous, for human beings, non-humans and the environment => we need to reframe many courses currently focusing on supporting GDP growth to focus on supporting well-being inside the planetary boundaries. Growth how and for whom?
See the big picture: the economy should be a sub-system of the environment and not the other way around => in our teaching, we need to go beyond market and monetary mechanisms, and show the dependency between the different parts of the system.
Nurture human nature: I hope we all know now that the homo economicus is a harmful idea. Human nature is rich, we are not isolated selfish and homogenous individuals => we need to integrate insights from other disciplines, sociology, psychology, anthropology, etc.
Get savvy with the system: we need to stop thinking that our models are universal models. They are static and abstract ones, and far away from the understanding we need of the real world around us => we need to embrace evolutionary and complexity knowledge.
Design to redistribute: inequalities are part of the system (how often we can see economics textbooks justifying inequalities) => we need to integrate power relationships, power concentration under capitalism and justice issues in our teaching.
Create to regenerate: almost everyone knows about the circular economy. But what about going beyond the 3Rs to teach about the 9Rs? => we need to reconsider the role of the firms, of innovation, and even more the need for cooperation instead of always thinking of competition.
Be agnostic about growth: what are we going to do with our decreasing growth trends since the 70s? Is it really making us happier to overconsume? Is GDP the solution to everything? NO => we need to go beyond traditional policies and rethink consumerism.
Defining the economy
Besides, the definition itself of the economics discipline, focusing on rational choices under scarcity, is a problem. The substantive definition from Polanyi would indicate such a broader view of the discipline, defining the economy as how humans develop a society’s livelihood strategy, interacting with their social and natural environments. It is also fundamental in this perspective to broaden the mainstream western-centered perspective (it could be a principle in itself!). And for this, we need to diversify our knowledge, exchange with people from different horizons and learn from each other.
As Exploring Economics presents it well, we have a diversity of goals and issues in economics. Neoclassical economics is largely dominant when in reality it is a tiny part of the field.
To finish, I share the power point I used for the presentation, do not hesitate to use and share wildly!
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I am researching sustainability transitions and the implementation of doughnut economics in Amsterdam. All support is welcome!