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The post-autistismo economics movement (French: autisme-économie) or movement of students for the reform of economics teaching (French: mouvement des étudiants pour une réforme de l'enseignement de l'économie) is a political movement which criticises neoclassical economics and advocates for pluralism in economics. The movement gained attention after an open letter signed by almost a thousand economics students at French universities and Grandes Écoles was published in Le Monde in 2000.
The French term autisme has an older meaning and signifies "abnormal subjectivity, acceptance of fantasy rather than reality". However, some post-autistic economists also assert that "neoclassical economics has the characteristics of an autistic child".
The pejorative reference to the neurodevelopmental disorder autism is considered offensive by some economists. Greg Mankiw said that "use of the term indicates a lack of empathy and understanding for those who live with actual, severe autism".
In June 2000, a petition was published by French students on the web. They criticized unrealistic economic teaching, improper usage of mathematics in the economy caused imaginary world and economics as an autistic science, domination of neoclassical theory and approaches in the university economics curriculum and economics teaching disregards the critical thought.
The expectations indicated on the petition are the escape from the imaginary world, opposition of uncontrolled mathematics and pluralist approach in economics. They also demanded teachers to be aware of the problems they ignored before it is too late for economics studies. They argued that the number of people who are interested in studying economics has started decreasing because of the autistic and unrealistic approach of the economics studies. From their point of view, because neoclassical economics ignores the practical side of the economics which are historical facts, functioning of institutions, study of the behaviors and strategies of the agents, this method prevents the concrete analysis of the economics which should base on the economic and social actors. Second, they claim that even mathematics is a useful tool for economics, it causes the “true schizophrenia” about the real world. That is to say, yet it is helpful for economics, it does not give answers regarding the contemporary economic debates. Third, the dogmatic approach which is created by neoclassical economics does not offer useful tools to explain the complexity of objects and the central uncertain questions and problems related to economics like unemployment, inequalities, the place of financial markets, the advantages and disadvantages of free-trade, globalization, economic development. Therefore, rather than dogmatic approach, they offer the pluralist approach as a culture in economic studies.
Articles associated with the movement were published in the Post-Autistic Economics Newsletter from September 2000. This electronic newsletter became the post-autistic economics review and, since 2008, has existed as the peer-reviewed journal real-world economics review.
Several responses to the French students' open letter were also published in Le Monde. A counter-petition signed by 15 French economists was published in October 2000. Robert Solow adhered to the "main thesis" of the French students' petition, but criticised the "opaque and almost incomprehensible" debate that followed among academics. Olivier Blanchard also published a response defending mainstream economics. Other notable economists, such as Steve Keen and James K. Galbraith, wrote elsewhere in support of the French students.
French professors gave a response to the French students’ demands with another petition. They briefly defined the problems French students raised and answered their concerns. Briefly stated, professors explained the division of the scientism and scientific approach and they claimed that main task for economists is to demonstrate “informative power and efficiency of an abstractions vis-à-vis sets of empirical phenomena.”
As an answer of students’ criticism on facts and imaginary world, they stated that the term “fact” is not clearly defined and they also added that in social sciences, paradigms are used to represent, and the conceptualize the reality. Their main argument on the role of paradigms is that they always should be discussed and the importance of the tools of statistics and economics gain significance at this point. However, they also justified the criticism of the students, and they stated that apart from mathematical tools, institutions, history environmental and geopolitical realities, strategies of actors and groups, the sociological dimensions including gender relations as well as more epistemological matters should be taken into account for the valid and concrete economic research. Lack of these dimensions and tools of economics is agreed upon French professors, and they offered the improvement of the training. They suggested the introduction of the new courses rather than making the combination of the knowledge from the different field of studies with the same training program. In addition to the scientism debate and the improvement of training techniques, they also tried to clarify the pluralism criticism of the students. They agree with the students’ point of view on pluralism, and they underlined that pluralism should be the main part of the economists especially to understand and conduct research on the world continues to evolve and becomes complex day by day. According to them, in the neoclassical method, diversity of the student’s degree course and the training of the student in critical thinking is disregarded and is unacceptable in free societies. Therefore, they finished their petition with their support to the claims and issues raised by students. Lastly, they offered a dialogue with students and public debate, and they underlined that these problems are the problems of all economics students in universities everywhere.
The criticism started with the French students in 2000 on the dogmatism, and unrealistic economics spread all around the world including Cambridge UK and Harvard. In 2003, 700 Harvard students and prepared a petition which addressed the Harvard Economics Department. They demanded the approval of the new introductory economics course proposed by Professor Stephen Margin which would include “a broader spectrum of views,” “examine the assumptions of economics,” and “challenge students to think critically.” As French students, Harvard students also issued a “mission statement” which is similar to the French students’ petition. In their statement, they underlined the importance of economics regarding the fundamental role of it on shaping the basic organizational structure of society and informing both the domestic and international policies which have a strong impact on individual welfare. Therefore, the education including critical perspectives and alternative models has significance regarding analyzing the economic and social consequences. From their point of view, Harvard’s values have an enormous impact on the students and even on their career choices.
Global critiques claim that the critique of post-autistic economics is neither new nor unique for economic science. They argued that their criticism and symbol is just a redefinition of other past heterodox arguments that are similar to the treatment of the disease. Second, they claimed that because of the missing realism in their core arguments, there is a weak communication with all the other stakeholders and the society. In addition to that, the simplicity of methodology cold is understood as a non-recognition of the complexity of human behavior.
- Real-World Economics Review
- Post-Keynesian economics
- Criticisms of neoclassical economics
- History of economics
- Pluralism in economics
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- "Lettre ouverte des étudiants en économie" [Open letter from students in economics]. Le Monde (in French). 17 June 2000. Retrieved 31 December 2016 – via autisme-economie.org.
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