We need new academic programs 

In the university, we need to open up and reorganize our antiquated departmental structures to recognize what’s been happening outside traditional economics departments.   Well before “neoliberalism’s” ascent in the 1970s, mid-century academic economics had largely purged their departmental curriculum of cross-disciplinary topics that it had inherited from 19th and early 20th century “political economy”: for example, the close study of legal systems, social relations and institutions, geography and demography, political systems and ideology, and history.  Here or there individual courses might be offered on one or another of these subjects (often by faculty approaching retirement), but in its rush to consolidate the essence of neoclassical assumptions and translate them into a structured “model” that is supposed to be mathematically testable (and in positivist terms, refutable), “economics” after World War II recreated itself into the form we encounter today – impoverished by its lack of attention to those topics and their useful place in economics.

What’s notable today, after the serial disappointments of that postwar economic project, is this: “political economy” is being revived as a legitimate academic discipline, often with its own faculty, research facilities, graduate and undergraduate degrees, and journals.   In the US, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, Berkeley, Stanford, Duke, Georgetown (and even Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Liberty University) – to name just a few of the best-known – now offer undergraduate and/or graduate programs in “political economy”. Most, I’d note, exist outside university economics departments – in government or political science or international relations departments, in public policy, law, and business schools or programs, and sociology and history faculties.  (The sheer number and range of such programs can be glimpsed by typing “political economy” and “syllabus” or “program” in any online search engine.)

The degree to which these modern “political economy” programs diverge from economics departments varies. That said, their brightest faculty and best students are clearly up to something like a nascent Protestant rebellion against an ailing but still-regnant Marginalist Church, itself visibly wedded to not just the ideas but the institutions of capitalist economies and their governing elites and structures.

Richard Parker