By Santiago Graña Colella (Guest blogger)
During my bachelor’s degree, I have little access to heterodox literature. What is worst, in most subjects, it was explained that the economy works in a particular fashion everywhere and every time, but without stating that this way was one interpretation of the economy, particularly the neoclassical interpretation. Consequently, most students do not know many alternatives to the economic theory thought to them and after five years (in Latin America) end up thinking that the economy works as in a neoclassical world and that any attempts of applying alternative economic policy it is following an ideological foundation. In this sense, I think it is important to promote heterodox ideas, because it allows critical students to know which schools of thought that are different from the neoclassical school. The problem, however, is having access to heterodox papers and having heterodox teachers within the courses taken. Personally, only in the last years of my bachelor, I had access to some heterodox courses, but this was the exception.
While the division between orthodox and heterodox is somehow necessary it is difficult to select a criterion to define each group. Some authors like Lavoie (2014) derive their classification from the value theory each school considers and sociological features. Other authors like Vernengo prefer to take a more theoretical definition separating strands by the assumptions or mechanisms consider in each school. Finally, mainly among student organizations, there is a more instrumental definition where orthodox is associated orthodox to models and mathematics and heterodox to more social approaches. It is understandable that, after years of neoclassical indoctrination, with models and maximization functions as main tools, critical student movements end up being against the utilization of these tools. However, this last definition is somehow flawed since some heterodox schools such as the post-Keynesian and some part of Marxist school use mathematics and, some orthodox authors, such as the Austrian, reject the use of mathematics.
I believe that heterodox economy should englobe schools which consider that, in the current economic system, there is a group (women, workers, poor people, developing countries) which cannot achieve another group (men, capitalist, reach people, developed countries) better position due to intrinsic mechanisms of the system and therefore, the state intervention is needed to overcome this situation. Differently, orthodox believe, that despite some failures that should be fixed, the intrinsic mechanism of the economic system leads to an optimal outcome and that state intervention will only be needed exceptionally.
Particularly, the post-Keynesian school is part of the heterodox group since has systematically mentioned the most distinctive features of capitalism and pointed out policies that could be applied by the state to overcome it. I believe that one of the main contributions of the post-Keynesian approach was disarming the neoclassical theory showing fundamental flaws in its analysis such as the one raised in the capital controversy. Furthermore, the post-Keynesian approach has evolved from their criticisms to the neoclassical school constructing logic and solid models that explain the economic process based on more realistic assumptions. However, there seems to be room for further development. Post-Keynesian has focused mainly on traditional macroeconomics issues like growth, distribution, and inflation without deeply analyzing the complexity of some other phenomena related to them such as poverty and the social dimension of development. Besides, other issues such as gender and environment are assessed with the same old perspective. For instance, some post-Keynesian papers regarding gender have tried to answer which is the effect of the gender gap on long-term growth, abstracting from the complexities that the gender issue has. However, these limitations can also be understood as opportunities for further developments.
Personally, after taking a mostly neoclassical bachelor, I decided to continue studying post-Keynesian economics because, despite a personal preference for macroeconomics and development topics, I considered that its economic theory always follows strong logical procedures and it is based in solid assumptions achieving, consequently, satisfactory policies recommendations. Furthermore, the post-Keynesian community has a lot of different strands that always raise interesting discussion within this school. Finally, as a general criticism of all heterodox schools, there is very little debate among them, which is needed to present a more solid discussion to the neoclassical hegemony.