Why a School of Political Economy?
The School of Political Economy (SPE) was established in 2019 to provide high-quality tertiary-level courses in economics education at an affordable cost. The rationale for doing this was to increase the competitive pressure on universities to lift their game, to demonstrate to universities the strong demand that exists for a reformed economics curriculum, to build the capacity and confidence of university students to push for curricular reform, to assist academics to formulate and teach a reformed economics curriculum, to better inform working economists of what they may have missed out on during their own education, and to better identify the types knowledge, skills and attributes that are most relevant to consider when employing economists.
The university economics curriculum has been regularly criticised for its lack of plurality and interdisciplinarity by students, business and society at large. Indeed, in no other academic discipline do students so regularly, and so widely, express deep dissatisfaction with the content of what they are taught (see the ISIPE open letter for example). There is ongoing work being done across the world in trying to remedy this situation (see the New Economics Education Network to get a sense of the range of this work). SPE plays a particular role inside this larger network.
Political Economy versus economics
Political economy is the preferred term for most of the content taught at SPE. We generally prefer the term ‘political economy’ over similar terms such as ‘heterodox economics’ for several reasons, including that political economy was the original name for economics, and given that much of that early pioneering work was far more interdisciplinary and pluralist than contemporary economics, it is appropriate to explicitly link back to this intellectual lineage and nomenclature.
Modern political economy studies the social provisioning process: how society does (and does not) get the goods and services it needs to flourish. Political economy is ‘economics in context’ in that it regularly incorporates the social, political and environmental context in which economic activity occurs. Much work in political economy is progressive in nature, seeking to better understand the world in order to improve it.
Political economy has common ground with economics in that it studies the production and distribution of goods and services and so whilst the primary focus is on teaching the various schools of political economy, SPE courses always include a solid (albeit largely non-technical) introduction the theoretical and conceptual foundations of mainstream (neoclassical) economics. This pluralist approach is appropriate for a number for several reasons, including that fact that it increases one’s capacity to make informed choices between rival claims about the causes of, and solutions to, various economic and social challenges.