Do text books of economics in standardized university education use elements of indoctrination? That is the question Silja Graupe, vice president of Cusanus University and professor for Economics and Philosophy investigated. Her findings are alarming.
Prof. Graupe analyzed textbooks that are used around the world, translated into over 40 languages with millions of copies sold. That fact by itself seems to me entirely absurd. In my university education none of the subjects I studied had any bible-like textbooks. Humanities, social and cultural sciences prepare students to think critically, rather than to obey knowledge as ultimate truth. Not so in economics – today’s leading “science”. The textbooks under investigation: “Economics” by Paul A. Samuelson and William d. Nordhaus, “Economics” by Gregor Mankiew, “Grundzüge der Mikroökonomik” by Hal R. Varian, and “Mikroökonomie” by Pindyk/Rubinfeld.
Neoliberal Indoctrination in Economics Textbooks
According to Prof. Graupe’s research these books use forms of persuasion that can fundamentally and subconsciously alter students’ worldviews. Needless to say: these forms of persuasion do not comply with the criteria of scientific-objective knowledge acquisition.
Manipulation takes place on an emotional, intuitive level. Textbooks use examples from students’ everyday life, like buying a scope of ice cream and mix them with a seemingly scientific mathematical approach to explain theories. In this setting of everyday life that involves students’ behavior (buying icecream) it becomes difficult to distinguish between ultimate truth and a theory that could be proven wrong at any time.
Economics – Science or Religion?
More interesting facts: Since 1989 textbooks have not been using the term “state” anymore. They rather speak of “markets”. But what exactly are markets? None of the textbooks discusses that politics today take on a role that caters to the needs of corporations and economics like a willing servant, rather than to the needs of .
Still today textbooks use the term “invisible hand” which was used in the 18th century to describe inexplicable phenomena. Adam Smith
was probably the first to use it in the economic context in his book Wealth of Nations (1776). It described an unobservable market force that helps the demand and supply of goods in a free market to reach equilibrium automatically. By now, science should have advanced explanations of market mechanisms, one might think. Fact is: text books still use this mystic metaphor . And if economics is based on sets of believes rather than scientific research, to me it seems quite logical to refer to it as a religion rather than a field of science.
This brief blog post by no means reflects all of Prof. Graupe’s research. If you want to read more, you can find a free summary of her study on Persuasion and Propaganda in Economic Education for download here or watch the video interview conducted at the conference Reshaping Economics at the Evangelische Akademie Tutzing.
One Person Does Make a Difference
Graupe’s research inspired others to follow suit. One individual can make a big difference by setting examples and inspiring others. When Professor Helge Peukert first heard about Graupe’s research, he thought she exaggerated. Today he is researching on indoctrination, himself.
Here comes a selection of ideas and take-aways from Prof. Peukert’s presentation. Again this is by no means encompassing his entire research:
Can you be a chief economist at a major corporation and teach economics critically? You can surely teach economics – according to your own interests, as proves Google chief economist
Hal R. Varian. He is the author of many widely used text books for micro economics. Micro economics does leave room for a critical questioning of market power. However, critical thinking might not exactly help Varian’s interests in his role at Google!
Textbooks are sloppily researched. Citations are usually not marked as such. Those that are marked are usually wrongly cited. If bachelor students worked in the same way they would fail.
The state is usually depicted as a pain in the neck or as the Leviathan that sucks people dry.
Financial Crisis? Uhm – What Crisis?
Textbooks hush up the financial crisis of 2008. There is no self-criticism, no discussion how the financial crisis could have happened at all and what might be the correlation with the existing dominating theory of economics. Valerian’s textbook first talks about the financial crisis on page 812. A book issued in 2015 has a 25-pages chapter on the financial crisis, starting at page 1000.
Economics professors around the world use Valerian’s textbooks for their university-level teaching. I remember my own university days when professors and teachers of my major American Studies alike would hold seminars on their current research projects. Not so in economics: Textbooks come with a set of slides and professors can become very lazy. Students have to buy the textbooks.
In the US they often cost around 200 Dollars while the same books cost some 35 Euros in Germany. Professors who are also authors of economics textbooks have a nice extra income through the sales on all continents!
Not everybody falls for brainwashing
When I talked to students or professionals of economics about these issues, nobody seemed suprised about findings of neo-liberal and mainstream indoctrination in economics textbooks. That at least leaves room for hope that students did keep their critical mind even after years of brainwashing attempts at universities.