Part I: Foundations

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Foundations: Introduction

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else.”

John Maynard Keynes, General theory

This part lays the groundwork for the rest of the book. It starts with the central philosophy of the book, explaining the title ‘Economy Studies’. From there, we set out three organising principles that provide a backing structure for the ten building blocks, which form the next part of the book. The next chapter discusses the need to diversify and decolonize our discipline. We end this part with a brief chapter on didactics, suggesting three points of attention regarding the practice of economics’ teaching.


When designing courses in economics, or even an entire program, there are endless choices to be made: theoretical focus, style of teaching, what materials to use, how to sequence courses and what to test students on. In the chapter Philosophy, we start with the question that lies at the foundation of all these choices: what should economics education focus on? We broadly identify two answers to that second question; answer A: organise education around a specific method of analysis and answer B: organise it around a subject, the economy.

Answer A implies separate programmes for the neoclassical, or rational choice, approach to human life, programmes for the institutional approach to human life, programmes for the Marxian approach to human life, etc. We explain why in this book we rather choose answer B: a programme centered on a specific subject matter, the economy. Subsequently, we define what we mean by ‘the economy’, discuss where its boundaries lie and how we might deal with its interfaces to other aspects of the world.

Organising principles

In the following three chapters of part I, we set out the three main principles of our framework: Pluralism, Real World and Values respectively.

The first principle focuses on the current dominance of a single school of thought in mainstream economics education, and our contrasting argument for theoretical and methodological pluralism. Learning to use analytical tools such as theories and research methods is the primary purpose of an academic education. We argue that a truly academic education requires a foundation of pluralism: the side-by-side use of fundamentally different, incommensurate approaches to studying the economy. We set out two basic reasons to support such pluralism: it helps students to gain a richer diversity of insights, and it gives them a clearer perspective on the limitations of any single approach, thus facilitating critical thinking.

The second principle concerns the current focus on mathematical abstraction and methodological techniques. We suggest focusing more attention on the real-world economy instead. ‘Real-world economics’ has long been a core demand of the Rethinking Economics movement. It is an ideal that seems self-evident; who would actively reject the real world in their teaching? Still, it is not easy to put into practise. We set out several forms of concrete knowledge about the real world which we believe to be crucial, and provide suggestions on how to implement this in teaching.

The third principle discusses the notion of value-free positivism. There is a tendency to try to banish normative issues entirely or contain them in an isolated course on ethics. This leaves students blind to the normative aspects of economic topics and unable to articulate moral dilemmas clearly and critically reflect upon them. Values, our moral principles and beliefs, are an integral aspect of economic dynamics, and deserve a central place in economics programmes. In fact, besides sheer curiosity, they are the entire reason we study economics, and the reason that it is the most prominent social science today: economic dynamics matter for almost everything we care about. This organising principle is about helping students to become aware of the value aspects of economic questions and to be comfortable with discussing them, in their role as an academically trained thinker and researcher. That does not mean making everything normative. It means identifying underlying values when they are relevant and focusing on the normative aspects of economic issues, rather than only discussing general ethical philosophies.

Foundations 1: Philosophy of Economy Studies

Foundations 2: Pluralism

Foundations 3: Real-World

Foundations 4: Values

Foundations 5: Diversifying & Decolonizing Economics

Foundations 6: The Didactics of Economics Education