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Sam de Muijnck, Director of “Our New Economy”, visits the JSMC

19 May 2024
On the 24th of April 2024, Sam de Muijnck visited the John Stuart Mill College to hold a guest lecture on “Recent Developments in Economic Thinking, Education and Policy”.

The event started with a brief overlook over De Muijnck’s vita, who, although still quite young, is one of the foremost representatives of the “Rethinking Economics” movement in the Netherlands. Already during his student days he chaired the “Rethinking Economics NL” student movement. Afterwards, he founded the Dutch think tank “Our New Economy”, which he chairs, and together with Joris Tieleman, wrote the book “Economy Studies” (2021). This book gives an overview of how economics education could be reformed both at the school and university level. He is also an advisor to the Dutch Institute for Curriculum Development SLO.

De Muijnck introduced students to the pluralist approach to economics, whose main premise is that neoclassical economics with its “homo economicus” should not have the monopoly of economics education, stressing that there is rarely only one “right” answer in economics. He gave students some tips for sources on heterodox economics, including the podcast “Ones and Tooze” by Adam Tooze, the website of the “Institute for New Economic Thinking”, the Youtube channel “Unlearning Economics”, the website “Project Syndicate” and the platform “Exploring Economics”, which he called the “Netflix of economics”.

De Muijnck then gave a brief overview of the different strands of heterodox economic theory, including behavioral economics with its emphasis on irrational behavior, which can be applied to design unemployment benefits, institutional economics with its emphasis on power and market design (e.g. designing the energy market so that clean energy sources are the cheapest, which explicitly goes beyond internalizing externalities), ecological economics with its emphasis on tipping points, and feminist economics, which considers unpaid labor. Moreover, these different approaches have different views on what the central problem in economics is: For neoclassical economics, it is “scarcity”, for post-Keynesian and behavioral economics it is “uncertainty”, for feminist and institutional economics it is “dominance”, and for Marxian, institutional, and evolutionary economics it is “change”.

He then presented evidence that we might be in a paradigm shift in economics, looking beyond growth towards environmental sustainability, well-being, inequality, and system resilience. He showed a quote by Christine Lagarde, head of the European Central Bank, in which she called economists a "tribal clique“ who only quote themselves. Moreover, this year’s IMF journal was titled “Economics - how should it change?”, evidencing that the issue of rethinking economics has arrived in the mainstream.

De Muijnck is however unsure whether this paradigm shift will happen, as many existing powerful vested interests are trying to stop it. In the same vein, De Muijnck referred to the German economic sociologist Wolfgang Streek, who argues that we might be in an interregnum, where the “old system is dying and the new one hasn‘t been born yet”. According to statistics from the Netherlands, 86% of economics education is still in neoclassical theory, 4% in behavioral theory, and only 2% in Marxist theory. Moreover, students mostly learn quantitive research methods like maths and statistics, while they do not learn qualitative research methods like how to conduct an interview.

In asking why neoclassical economics is still so dominant, he took a look at recent historical developments, stating that it was only after the Second World War, when economics came to be seen as a useful discipline to determine optimal resource use for weaponry, that neoclassical economics became the mainstream discipline. Before, both institutional as well as Keynesian economics were widely taught. Then, with the era of McCarthyism, textbooks that were seen as “too left” received backlash from Business leaders and university donors in the USA. As textbooks are the foundation of economic education, this had a profound influence on overall economic thinking. De Muijnck then cited statistics showing that most economists consider themselves center left, concluding that “they do care about issues such as inequality, they are just not getting educated about them”.

Afterwards, De Muijnck took the time to answer some questions from the audience. One student asked how the paradigm change could come about: De Muijnck pointed at academic journals as hindering development in economic research, saying that the focus on getting published stops academics from going outside the mainstream, and that the need for hyperspecialization stops them from seeing the bigger picture.