What is Heterodox Economics? Conversations with Leading Economists
by Andrew Mearman, Sebastian Berger and Danielle Guizzo
Reviewed by Professor Caroline Elliot (Department of Economics)
When starting this book, I immediately liked that the editors recognise its contribution to a body of literature based on conversations with economists focusing on different aspects of economics, including the teaching of economics. The editors are to be credited for drawing out parallels in these books (for example the focus on what attracted the interviewees to economics) and for their open reflections on the challenges and potential weaknesses of the semi-structured interview format.
"I would argue that the conversations may be of particular interest to any academic, regardless of discipline, who knows or suspects that they are a maverick in their discipline, even if there isn’t a heterodox group to which they feel their work aligns."
– Professor Caroline Elliott
The editors claim that the book might be interesting to academics in related fields such as sociology and history, but I would argue that the conversations may be of particular interest to any academic, regardless of discipline, who knows or suspects that they are a maverick in their discipline, even if there isn’t a heterodox group to which they feel their work aligns. It is also interesting that some of the interviewees dispute that they are heterodox economists (for example Edward Fullbrook; Joan Martinez-Alier; Esther-Mirjam Sent) while others dislike the heterodox label, including Gary Mongiovi. Nevertheless - non-economists may want to skip some of the more esoteric discussions of the possible meanings of the term heterodox economics. The introduction does a great job highlighting the nuances of what may be considered to be heterodox economics, highlighting the diversity of topics, opinions, underlying political stances and methodologies associated with heterodox economics, plus any potential similarities with what is often referred to as mainstream or neoclassical economics. My only minor quibble with the representation of mainstream / neoclassical economics in the introduction is the presumption that heterodox economists are more likely to encourage a critical approach to learning in their students.
I appreciated that the editors ask interviewees questions about what they enjoy and aim to achieve in teaching as well as asking about their research. Some of the interviewees’ natural enthusiasm for teaching comes through, for example Fernando Cardim De Carvalho. Anwar Shaikh’s interview is notable for the extent to which his enduring love of his subject is evident. I also enjoyed that the editors elicited views on economics as poetry, even if this question is one that some of the interviewees maybe struggled to answer
All credit to the editors that the overwhelming lasting impression of the interviews is how honest the interviewees are, for example Sheila Dow; William Darity; S. Charusheela; Tony Lawson; Edward Fullbrook and Ulrich Witt.
Other unexpected but valuable insights emerge from the interviews: Fernando Cardim de Carvalho discusses the pros and cons of working in small versus large universities and the importance of public support and funding, as well as offering insights into three of Shakespeare’s tragedies, an unexpected treat. Meanwhile, both Julie Nelson and Tony Lawson discuss the impact of high fees on students and their attitudes to learning in recent years, while Victoria Chick speculates on the behaviour of different economists in research seminars. Edward Fullbrook’s interview is one of the shortest, but he is a natural raconteur and draws the reader in immediately to his non-conventional path to becoming an economist.
I appreciated that the editors make a real effort to draw out themes from the interviews in the concluding thoughts, no easy task when collectively the interviewees do not even agree whether they consider themselves to be heterodox economists. The editors also recognise that interviewees are restricted to a sample of very experienced, recognised economists. I look forward to the next volume as they hint that a further volume may instead focus on interviewing heterodox economists (even if again some of the interviewees do not accept the description) who are earlier in their careers.
It is nice that the work of Warwick alumnus Andy Haldane is mentioned in the interview with Sheila Dow, and I end this review with a confession. I love reading and often ‘squirrel away’ books so I can read them again later. However, I so enjoyed this book that I am determined not to be selfish and to lend it to colleagues right away for their enjoyment too.
Department of Economics