[OPE-L:3879] Support for French economics students

From: glevy@pratt.edu
Date: Mon Sep 25 2000 - 10:36:21 EDT

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Here, courtesy of Riccardo, is the text in English of support by French professors of economics to the students' 'manifesto' at:


They are opening the signatures to non-French students. It would be good if we could read the original student manifesto as well.

Let us DISCUSS this issue and DECIDE whether we should SUPPORT and PARTICIPATE in this movement.

In solidarity, Jerry

---------- Forwarded message ----------

"A debate on the teaching in economics. At last...!"

"The declaration written and signed up by a group of students in economics
from French universities and "grandes écoles" is something professors in
economics can not be unconcerned about. Some because they will feel
questioned by it. Others, in opposite, because they share the claims and
worries that are stated.

The problems raised by the students are the following:

- the important space occupied by the neoclassical theory and the
"mismatching between the teaching and the actual reality", while it’s
necessary to proceed to a permanent feed back to fact and to provide
answers that are "useful to economic and social actors" ,

- using mathematics as a finality per se rather then as a tool, and as a
instrument of selecting students under cover of Science,

- a teaching based on lectures that does not open up to thinking,

- the need for a plurality of explanations adapted to the complexity of the
objects analyzed.

It is worrying to observe that students feel, from the teaching that they
get and the exercises they practice, that the activity of an economist
would consist in "running" models with no link with the actual realities.
As if the job of the economist was about manipulating "imaginary worlds",
avoiding the analysis of major contemporary issues. Now, if we look at the
past 25 years, and only mentioning developed countries, the moral
responsibility of economists is engaged through unemployment and social

Too often, research and teaching in economics are reduced to a play on
variables, in more or less complex models, to the detriment of the quality
of answers to issues raised by contemporary mutations. If mathematical
virtuosity may sometime be acclaimed as the one of an artist in front of
his masterpiece, in no way can it provide satisfactory answers in front of
the seriousness of social issues. The technicity and the "scientific"
appearance of arguments reduced to the use of mathematics often hide the
emptiness of proposals and the lack of concern about operational answers.

As every scientific field does, economics is focused on the explanation of
actual phenomena. The validity and the relevancy of a theory can in fine
only be assessed through a necessary confrontation with "facts". This is
why we can only, with students, deplore the development of a pedagogy in
economics privileging the presentation of theories, the building of models,
the capacity to write and derive properties of models whose empirical
relevancy would not be (or too little) discussed. Or which highlights the
formal quality of the construction to the detriment of the discussion of
the interpretative and demonstrative capacity regarding "reality". The
first interest of a model is the nature, the power and the efficiency of
the abstraction that it proposes to inform. The prime competence of the
economist should be to realize this task. It is not a mathematical issue.

"Getting back to facts" is not an obvious task, indeed. Any science lies on
facts that are built up and conceptualized. Different paradigms therefore
appear, each of them constituting different families of representation and
modalities of interpretation or construction of reality.

But this should not lead us to resign ourselves to a shortsightedness and
auto-referentiality. Acknowledging the existence and the role of paradigms
should not be used as an argument for setting up different citadels,
unquestionable from the outside. Paradigms should be confronted and
discussed. But this can not be done, or it would be empiricism, on the base
of a "natural" or immediate representation. One can not avoid using the
tools provided by statistics and econometrics. But performing a critical
assessment of a model should not be approached on a exclusively
quantitative base. As rigorous, from a formal point of view, as may be the
origin of a "economic law" or of a theorem, as satisfactory and convincing
as may seem the statistical fit to observed facts, one always need to
assess the relevancy and the validity regarding the context and the type of
situation to which its scope may be subordinated. One should also take into
account the institutions, history, strategies of actors and groups, the
sociological dimensions, as well as more epistemological matters. However,
these dimensions of economics are cruelly missing in the training of our

This situation may be solved with introducing specialized courses. But
it’s not so much the addition of new courses that is important, but
much more the linking of relevant knowledge’s in a same given
training program. Students are claiming for that, and we consider that
there are right here. The fragmentation of our discipline should be fought
against. For instance, macroeconomics should highlight, itself, the
importance of institutional constraints, of structures, and of the role of
history. How can it be suggested that the same models, the same theories
should have a priori the same relevancy for the United States, for France
or for Japan?

Each teaching course can, and should, refer to several specialties. One
should not develop on one side a course in theoretical macroeconomics, on
another side a course in history, and later a course in epistemology,
leaving to the student the enormous task of performing a synthesis of the
disciplines, and to set up all the relevant connections. He (or she) is not
able to achieve such a synthesis. But, above all, it would consist in
following a bad path regarding the pedagogy in economics. What matters is
the capacity to solve problems, therefore the capacity to approach a given
situation under different aspects. Therefore, should we not only teach
specialties but teach how to build connections. Students need to learn how
to learn and to perform by themselves the linking which are relevant in the
study of a problem.

This leads us to the issue of pluralism. Because the existence of different
theories can be explained by the nature of the assumed hypotheses, the
questions stated, the choice of a more or less long temporal spectrum in
which the analysis and the "régulations" take place, of by the
institutional and historical context. The system to which the study of the
given phenomenon is referring may be more or less large. The setting up of
its boundary is part of the problem to be solved. Pluralism is not only a
matter of, as some may think, different prejudice or basic visions which
would express specific commitments. Pluralism is not only a matter of
ideology. It is, indeed, more confortable and simple, when confronting
theories, to attribute the differences to ideological divergences. It may
be the case, but it is far from always being the case.

Pluralism must be part of the basic culture of the economist. Regarding
research, everyone is free to develop the type of thinking and stream
toward which its convictions and fields of interest may lead him (her).
Regarding pedagogy, in a much complexified and continuously evolving world,
it is impossible to avoid alternative representations and to commit to a
strong fragmentation of disciplines.

This leads us to the questioning of the neoclassical theory. The
preponderant space it occupies is, indeed, questionable as far as pluralism
is concerned. But there is a more important issue than the statement of
this principle. The fiction of a rational representative agent, the
importance given to the notion of equilibrium, the idea according to which
the market, regulated by prices, essentially constitutes the main (if not
unique) locus of adjustments of behaviors: these are as many analytical
principals founding a research strategy whose efficiency and relevancy is
not obvious neither proved. Our conception of economics, more political, is
based on some principals of behaviors of another kind (principal of bounded
rationality for instance). It acknowledges the importance of history and
institutions, includes the existence of direct interactions between agents,
and acknowledges that their heterogeneity is, per se, an important factor
for the dynamics of the system. It keeps an important role to adjustments
of behaviors which goes beyond the market and are not limited to prices and
quantities equilibrium. Organizations play a double role: as agents, and as
systems of agents. The phenomena of power can not be a priori excluded or
put aside. The study of long dynamics, of shifts and crises, allow to put
in perspective and to better apprehend contemporary evolutions.

The fact that "in most cases" the teaching maintains a central role to
neoclassical thesis is questionable for other reasons. Students are,
indeed, leaded to believe not only that the neoclassical theory is the only
scientific stream, but also that scientificity can be explained through
it’s axiomatic characteristic or by the systematic of exclusive use
of formalized modeling under all its aspects. Let us state it straight: the
neoclassical theory is not more scientific than other approaches in
economics. Naturally, this does not mean that it is less scientific.

In any way, we denounce, with students, the totally abusive assimilation
that is often made between scientificity and the use of mathematics. The
debate on the scientificity of economics as a social science can not be
limited to the question of using mathematics or not. Let’s go
further: raising the debate in those terms is actually about deluding
people and avoiding true questions and issues which as far more important,
we mean the object and the nature of modeling itself. Not mentioning the
already stated risk of an economic thought focused on resolving "imaginary"

Concerning pedagogy, the consequence is immediate: if the space left to
mathematics is too important, and if it is suggested that a good economist
has necessarily to be a good mathematician (and, according to some,
reciprocally) we are therefore facing a pitiful and unjustified perverse

The strong inclination, in France, which consists in considering that
mastering the mathematical tool is the criteria of the capacity to
elaborate a scientific discourse, is of common knowledge. The central role
attributed to pure mathematics as a tool for selecting students willing to
enter "grandes écoles", is also well known. Some have set up similar type
of selection for entering bachelor training in economics. One can have some
doubts about the relevancy of such pedagogical strategy.

We should look at this role attributed to mathematics in trainings in
economics as a national specificity that nothing, fundamentally, from
inside the discipline, can justify. At least, nothing can justify the
excess we have reached. We only have to observe the programs set up by the
very countries who are used as a reference by the ones who defend this
"derive" to be able to catch this specificity.

A quality, and state of the art, teaching in economics is very much
feasible without needing to reproduce a style of training not adapted to
students and, above all, a training that leads to neglect two strong
features of the university: the diversity of student’s degree course
on one side, and the training to critical thinking on the other side.

We give our full support to the claims made by the students. We are
particularly concerned with initiatives that may be taken at the local
level in order to provide beginning of answers to their expectations. We
hope that those will be heard by all the students in economics in
universities. In order to do so, we are ready to enter a dialogue with
students and to be associated with the holding of a national conference
that would allow the opening of a public debate for all".

It has been signed by

188 le 20 septembre à 8 h.

Jacques Aben (Montpellier 1)

Michel Aglietta (Paris10)

Deniz Akagül (Lille 1)

Olivier Allain (Paris 5)

Delila Allam (Paris 1)

Wladimir Andreff (Paris 1)

Edith Archambault (Paris 1)

Michel Armatte (Paris 9)

Patricia Augier (Aix Marseille 2)

Carime Ayati (INPG Grenoble)

Christian Azais (Amiens)

Christian Barrère (Reims)

Laure Bazzoli (Lyon 2)

Michel Beaud (Paris 7)

Bertrand Bellon (Paris 11)

Mohamed Benlahcen (Perpignan)

Guy Bensimon (IEP Grenoble)

Eric Berr (Bordeaux 4)

Jacques Berthelot (ENSAT Toulouse)

Claude Berthomieu (Nice Sophia Antipolis)

Marie-Pierre Bes (IUT Toulouse)

Pierre Bezbakh (Paris 9)

Bernard Billaudot (Grenoble)

Jérôme Blanc (Lyon 2)

Danièle Blondel (Paris 9)

Bernard Bobe (Marne la Vallée)

Paul Boccara (Amiens)

Jean-Pierre Boinon (INRA-ENESAD)

Stefano Bosi (Evry)

Michel Boutillier (Paris 10)

Sophie Boutillier (Dunkerque)

Robert Boyer (Cepremap)

Eric Brousseau (Paris 10)

André Cartapanis (Aix Marseille 2)

Armand Chanel (Grenoble)

Claire Charbit (E.N.S.T.)

Bernard Chavance (Paris 7)

Gabriel Colletis (Toulouse 1)

Pierre Concialdi (IRES)

Laurent Cordonnier (Lille 1)

Benjamin Coriat (Paris 13)

Antonella Corsani (Amiens)

Michel Damian (Grenoble 2)

Ai-Thu Dang (Paris 1)

Mario Dehove (Paris 13)

Jean-Claude Delaunay (Marne-la-Vallée)

Ghislain Deleplace (Paris 8)

Robert Delorme (Versailles Saint Quentin)

Thierry Demals (Lille 1)

Daniel Diatkine (Evry)

Patrick Dieuaide (Paris 1)

Pierre Dockes (Lyon 2)

Pierre Duharcourt (Marne la Vallée)

Claude Dupuy (Toulouse 1)

François Eymard-Duvernay (Paris 10)

Nathalie Fabry (Marne la Vallée)

François Facchini (Reims)

Sylvie Faucheux (Versailles Saint Quentin)

Jean-Pierre Faugère (Paris 11)

Olovier Favereau (Paris 10)

Jacques Fontanel (Grenoble 2)

François Fourquet (Paris 8)

Jacques Freyssinet (IRES)

Bernard Friot (Nancy 1)

Jean Gadray (Lille 1)

Christine Galavielle (Le Havre)

Jean-Pierre Galavielle (Paris 1)

Christian Gauchet (Paris 9)

Jérome Gautié (ENS d'Ulm)

Bernard Gazier (Paris 1)

Christiane Genet (Grenoble)

Jean-Pierre Gilly (Toulouse 3)

Jean-Pierre Girard (Amiens)

Jean-Jacques Gislain (Nantes)

Jérôme Gleizes ( Paris 13)

Claude Gnos (Dijon)

Eric Godelier (Poitiers)

Jean-Jacques Gouguet (Limoges)

Jacqueline Gueguen (IEP Rennes)

Bernard Guibert

Jean-Paul Guichard (Nice)

Bernard Guilhon (Aix-Marseille 2)

Abdel Hamdouch (Lille)

Michel Henochsberg ( Paris X-Nanterre)

Remy Herrera (CNRS Paris 1)

Isabelle Hirtzlin (Paris 1)

Ahmet Insel (Paris 1)

Henri Jacot (Lyon 2)

Mireille Jae

  I want to <mailto:bernard.paulré@univ-paris1.fr>sign this petition :
click this link and please mention your name, city, state, and preferably
you "institutional" mail (as a mean of signature)

[This is probably wrong! The right address should be:

Thank you for you support.For the time being, since we have not set up a
Forum system yet, the only way to reach us is via the above mentioned mail.
Feel free to use it but, since it's a individual mail, with parsimony ...

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