University of Vermont Penalizes Rethinking Economics

By Steve Keen, professor and Head of the School of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University in London
Cross-posted from his Patreon page.

Mainstream economics clearly failed humanity in 2007, when, as the world sat on the brink of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, mainstream economic models were predicting that 2008 was going to be a great year.My favourite such prediction was the OECD’s bi-annual Economic Outlook, which proclaimed in June of 2007 that “the current economic situation is in many ways better than what we have experienced in years“.

EDITORIAL

ACHIEVING FURTHER REBALANCING

In its Economic Outlook last Augutm, the OECD took the view that the US slowdown was not heralding a period of worldwide economic weakness, unlike, for instance, in 2001. Rather, a “smooth” rebalancing was to be expected, with Europe taking over the baton from the United States in driving OECD growth.

Recent developments have broadly confirmed this diagnosis. Indeed, the current economic situation is in many ways better than what we have experienced in years. Against that background, we have stuck to the rebalancing scenario. Our central forecast remains indeed quite benign: a soft landing in the United States, a strong and sustained recovery in Europe, a solid trajectory in Japan and buoyant activity in China and India. In line with recent trends, sustained growth in OECD economies would be underpinned by strong job creation and falling unemployment.

That was two months before the crisis began.

You might think that, after such an extreme failure, economists would be trying to find what went wrong with their modelling. That has happened at policy institutions like the Bank of England and, to its credit, the OECD.

The Bank of England established the “One Bank” research unit after the crash, has employed many researchers from outside economics, and is, in my personal experience, very receptive to non-mainstream ideas now. The OECD established a new unit called New Approaches to Economic Challenges, and is also much more receptive to non-mainstream views than it was before the crisis.

But universities have been a very different proposition.

In university departments, the reaction of the mainstream has been to defend their paradigm, and to penalize those who criticize it. Whereas in the past they would tolerate the odd dissident as just “that guy down the corridor with those weird views” and let him/her teach a range of service subjects, now they are actively targeting such non-conformists for removal.

A recent instance of this was the decision of the University of Vermont to sack a popular lecturer, John Summa, for teaching mainstream economics in a critical manner. The case has all the nasty characteristics of an academic bunfight, of which I’ve experienced several myself. Do read John’s GoFundMe appeal, even if you don’t wish to make a donation.

In the end, he was dismissed, and he is now challenging that dismissal via a court action. I wish John the best, hope that justice will prevail, and I’ve made a small donation ($100) to his cause. I’d be pleased if you did too. He needs $4000, and he’s about 60% of the way there.

I’ve reproduced some of John’s evidence below, but there’s much more on his GoFundMe site.

John Summa’s Statement

Despite solid evidence of exaggerated and false claims used against me to persuade the Dean to deny my reappointment at UVM, these mischaracterizations were ignored by the Vermont Labor Relations Board when they ruled on my grievance. The case is now being appealed to the VT Supreme Court.

But I need help! Click here to learn more:

I allege that proven false and exaggerated claims masked disapproval of my ecological critiques of standard (supply and demand) neoclassical model economics (which I fully and fairly taught according to over 2,500 student evaluations). I maintain that there is no evidence whatsoever to support the Chair’s biggest claim that I was not teaching the standard (neoclassical) model “fully and fairly”.

Make a donation and help me fight academic bullies who don’t want ecological and alternative economics being taught to students. 

I argue that the Chair was leading the removal of a popular and maverick veteran teacher who was exposing students (after teaching models fully and fairly and getting good reviews from students) to the truth about the profound failures of core curriculum models students are required to learn (and do learn). Among other shortcomings I highlighted is the failure of these models to address global warming, growing inequality and systemic market failure.

Purging popular and challenging teachers cannot be tolerated. Help me fight against academic cronyism and intellectual nepotism at UVM. Make a pledge!

Despite some Nobel prize winning economists saying these models are “foolish” and “dead-end” approaches in today’s world  (information I shared with students), I was nevertheless removed based on the belief that I was not teaching “good” economics (Chair’s choice of words) —  a reference to the same models now discredited by some of the profession’s own leading practitioners. Apparently  the Dept. Chair is unaware that there is no consensus on what constitutes “good” economics. Your good economics is my bad economics and vice versa.

The Faculty Standards Committee (FSC) at the University of Vermont was not fooled by the actions of the Chair and voted unanimously to reappoint me and described the review process as “tainted” (and believed the Chair was “out to get” me, according to a whistleblower who came forward to inform me of this fact).

If you would like to help me, please make a donation at my gofundme page. Here is the link

Thanks for helping me stand up to the enemies of freedom of expression and alternative thinking about economics.

Links on Yanis Varoufakis

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One of the exciting things about the new SYRIZA government in Greece is that the new finance minister is Yanis Varoufakis, a left economist. I am familiar with him because he has been interviewed many times on Behind the News, the radio show of Left Business Observer editor Doug Henwood.

The latest episode of Behind the News compiles clips from five of those interviews, starting with one from 2008 in which he comments on the street demonstrations by students and unions, running through several interviews about the eurozone crisis, and ending (culminating?) in an interview from November in which Varoufakis talks about how SYRIZA should deal with its creditors if it takes power. Two questions and answers from the end of the interview are especially telling and interesting:

Doug Henwood: “Why has it taken so long for some kind of political response to what is now getting to be a fairly old crisis?”

Yanis Varoufakis: “When things go bad and families lose income, their members lose their jobs, it is a natural, I believe, reaction, of people to privatize their concerns and lick their wounds and try to do whatever they can in order to put food on the table. The result is that any radicalism just disappears and what you have is a wave of pessimism that numbs people and causes them to abandon the political–the public–sphere. But that doesn’t last forever, and at some point–especially if there is some hope of stabilization, even at very low levels of economic and social activity–something gives, some spark ignites a fire, especially amongst younger people, who just don’t believe they deserve to live in a world that treats them as fodder. One hopes that young people will at some point say ‘Enough is enough.'”

Doug Henwood: “What would SYRIZA do if it got in power or close to it?”

Yanis Varoufakis: “One word sums it up: negotiate, negotiate, and negotiate. … But to negotiate, and be taken seriously, you have to have a credible threat. You have to be prepared to blow the whole thing up, simply by being intransigent if you are not taken seriously.”

That first stage, when people are “numb,” is when Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine kicks in, I take it (and explains why it took so long for Occupy to happen). I recommend listening to the whole episode (it’s about an hour), and to the interviews the excerpts come from.  But if you want more quotes of some of the best bits, check out the piece in HuffPo with the inflammatory title, Greece’s New Finance Minister: ‘You Have To Be Prepared To Blow The Whole Thing Up’, which seems to have taken the episode as its main source.

There’s been some discussion of Varoufakis on the email list of the Chicago Political Economy Group (CPEG), whose members Ron Baiman and Bill Barclay have blogged here.  That discussion produced more interesting background about Varoufakis, including an interesting blog post by the Australian economist Steve Keen (Steve wrote a piece on debt deflation for our Economic Crisis Reader; Varoufakis taught at Sydney University in the 1980s): My Friend Yanis the Greek Minister of Finance.  And Peter Dorman has a post (Greek Negotiations Begin with a Blast) about SYRIZA’s strategy of not engaging with the Troika (the European Central Bank, the IMF, and the EU)–the “negotiate, negotiate, negotiate” of Doug’s interview, if you listen closely, is with other European governments, not the Troika. Dorman mentions Varoufakis’s background in game theory (though I gather he was mostly a critic of game theory); that is especially interesting given that Varoufakis recently had a consulting position with the video game company Valve Software (as discussed in this episode of Doug’s show).

Another good place to get information about Varoufakis is at his own blog, which is in English, and which he promises to keep posting to even as finance minister.