Publication Details

Ville, S. (2014). Economics hijackers could do with a history lesson. The Conversation, (31 October), 1-3.

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The Conversation


Behind every economic policy initiative lies a narrative justifying that course of action: immigration increases unemployment; public debt is unsustainable; manufacturing is interminably declining; city growth is out of control.

We have many “narrators” driving these discussions of economics – the media, political parties, public sector bodies, business and indeed universities – each with their own set of interests and values.

Unfortunately, among these claimants, the voice of economic history has remained largely silent or selectively galvanised to prosecute a triumphalist or doomsayer interpretation: “the clever country’s many successes in policy and business”; or “the lucky country’s history has been a series of fortuitous events now running out of steam”.

According to the recent review of the national curriculum, our ignorance of economic history begins early. Three times the report chastises the lack of economic history in our schools. The teaching of economic history in universities has become the victim of organisational pressures pushing out small disciplines and intellectual trends on either edge towards econometrics and cultural history.

The seriousness of the recent global financial crisis for many nations jolted economic history from its slumber. In its aftermath, The Economist asked a group of leading economists whether the crisis would affect the teaching of economics. Their overwhelming response was to reinstate economic history in the curriculum.