A movement to
encourage schools and universities to use economics textbooks that engage
honestly with the real world
What does “toxic textbooks” mean?
As an epistemological event, the 2008 meltdown of the global financial system ranks with the observation of the 1919 solar eclipse. The latter proved that classical physics pertained only to a special case and so prompted physicists to introduce new textbooks. In the wake of today’s global disaster economists must do likewise. The fact that the economic system that collapsed had been tailored to fit traditional mainstream teachings means that its textbooks harbour and promote fundamental misconceptions about the way economies, most especially their markets, function. These misconceptions led to one global disaster and could lead to more. In other words, these textbooks are toxic.
“The first thing that the global financial crisis should therefore do to economics is to galvanise student protest about the lack of debate within academic economics itself, because dissident academic economists will be unable to shift the tuition of economics themselves without massive pressure from the student body.”
Toxic textbooks helped cause the economic meltdown
The current economic meltdown is not the result of natural causes or human conspiracy, but because society at all levels became infected with false beliefs regarding the nature of economic reality. And the primary sources of this infection are the “neoclassical” or “mainstream” textbooks long used in introductory economics courses in universities throughout the world.
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Every year these “mainstream” books serve to indoctrinate millions of students in a quaint ideology (perfect rationality of economic agents, market efficiency, the invisible hand, etc.) cunningly disguised as science. This mass miseducation deprives society of the moral and intellectual capacities it needs in order to design and maintain the support systems required by market economies.
We need new, non-toxic textbooks
More economic catastrophes will befall us and our children if we do not replace these toxic textbooks with non-toxic ones immediately. If decency and good sense prevail in academia, then affecting this reform will not be a problem. But textbook reform will damage many economic faculties and toxic textbook authors. The former will suffer losses to their reputations, the latter to their royalties, which in some cases run to millions of dollars.
Together, we can overcome these vested interests
Society can therefore expect well-placed and richly-funded strategic resistance to doing the right and necessary thing. This website and the associated Facebook group exist to help citizens, especially students, mobilize and organize themselves to overcome these vested interests.
“This modern risk management paradigm held sway for decades. The whole intellectual edifice, however, collapsed in the summer of last year."
Alan Greenspan, 2008
Professors of economics who over the years have protected the neoclassical monopoly should be held responsible and accountable. Advocating a specific ideology in the name of science can hardly be defended.
Peter Söderbaum [Mälardalen University, Sweden]
What can be done?
Gregory Mankiw’s Principles of Economics, in its five versions, has internationally been the dominant basic text for more than a decade. Also its author was chairman of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2003 to 2005.
If universities continued to use for nuclear engineering a textbook by an engineer who had headed a team managing a nuclear power plant that without external causes exploded causing huge devastation, there would be an enormous public outcry, including student demonstrations.
There should be a similar outcry if Mankiw-type textbooks continue to be foisted on the world’s million or so young people who every year in good faith take up the study of economics. We cannot undo current economic disaster, but we can greatly reduce the chances of one happening again by demanding that universities use introductory textbooks that are pluralist in their approach and thereby prevent economics courses from becoming programs of ideological indoctrination.
“Unless mainstream economics takes heed of these warnings and proves its relevance for the understanding of the most severe crisis of the capitalist system since the 1930s, then it will be doomed to irrelevance. My suggestion is that a world protest of academic, student and business economists be organised to drive home this point.”
M. Hodgson [
Design-impact, June 3
for a Better Economy
is one of the latest social causes being promoted through Facebook to rid the world of misperceptions, particularly when it comes to economics versus the environment. Students around the world are joining the fight to end the publication and use of economic textbooks that perpetuate myths we all know to be false.” more June 2
After only 12 days, Toxic Textbook’s Facebook group passes the 1,000 members mark, May 27.
The American Prospect
a load of Bollocks”
Five days after its launch, the Facebook Toxic Textbooks group has 700 members. - May 19, 2009
The Nation - May 18, 2009
RGE Monitor - May 18, 2009
Weekly Online –
May 12, 2009
600 students reading economics and finance at Bristol University (UK) rebel over fees. One academic at Bristol, who declined to be named, said: “It has created a sensation at the university. This is the most important student rebellion in this country in a generation. They should be proud.”
Princeton University (USA) economics professor warns the class of 2009 against “the economics profession that brainwashed you”.