Getting out of Plato’s Cave with a dose of sociology of the economics profession

The path to enlightenment in economics classrooms is to stop exclusively watching projected powerpoint slides containing the standard model, and instead seek sunlight! My most shocking discovery as a lecturer at UVM Dept. of Economics was to learn that students surveyed by me after 4 years of “education” in economics did not know what the term neoliberalism was all about and in fact had not even heard it used in a classroom. Oh my, I thought, we have got to seek sunlight, and sociological explorations are a good way to find an exit from the cave.

Everybody loves a little gossip, especially when it turns out to be true and reveals how reality is not what it appears to be (viz., exposing deceptions).

That is why my favorite approach to inspiring students about economics was first and foremost sociological — informing students about how economics as a profession has constituted itself historically (and how things really work politically in relationship to economic theory).

It is sort of a gossiping approach. Textbooks don’t tell you this stuff and most professors will not bother to inform you, or are unable to because they were educated themselves solely by naively viewing the analytical shadows on Plato’s Cave walls.

Yet the sociological angle (call it the “sunlight” equivalent in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave) provides, in my opinion, the only way to become truly smart about economics.

Whatever your leaning ideologically, without the backstory found through sociological explorations, you might as well be in Plato’s Cave trying to figure out reality with the shadows on the cave walls (in many ways shadows become the reality for many).

With this in mind, below I am sharing a great short video interview with economist Matias Vernengo, Professor of Economics at Bucknell University (blogger at Naked Keynesianism), who explains “how a crisis can reveal that the dominant neoliberal orthodoxy is in fact based on a shaky theoretical foundation.”

It is a great overview of the sociology of economics and why, despite the collapse of the economy in 2008, largely constructed based on dominant economic theory, it did NOT lead to any fundamental shifts in economics ideas (despite some tinkering around the edges of the conventional approach).   ~JS