Davos 2015

No Room at Top? Dominance of Economics at Davos

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Economists are invited to Davos as a reflection of the profession’s influence in society, particularly in policy making and business strategy. Their strong position at Davos and promise to fix “real” world problems is also a major threat to the drivers of change towards more pluralism as a social “science”. How is pluralistic economic thought represented at Davos?

Christine Lagarde, head of International Monetary Fund (IMF), listens at the 2014 Global Economic Outlook panel.

Photo courtesy of the World Economic Forum

Christine Lagarde, head of International Monetary Fund (IMF), listens at the 2014 Global Economic Outlook panel.

DAVOS, Switzerland — Each year, thousands of students in the US and EU arrive at premier economics departments intending to solve today’s most intractable social problems, such as development, poverty, inequality, and unemployment. And in academia, argue sociologists in a recently published working paper, economics holds a dominant position among the network of social sciences. The discipline’s very real rise of influence beyond the “science” exposed them to the ambiguous process of democratic politics, promising through rational, quantitative models and rigorous number-crunching skills to solve these problems.

But the failure to anticipate the 2008 financial and economic crises led to a collective “soul searching” of the profession and discipline, such as Piketty’s fact checking of inequality. In classrooms, a global student initiative for “post-crisis” economics is also representative of this shift of intellectual wings.

A student society at University of Manchester leads a movement to reform economics education.

Wikimedia commons

A student society at University of Manchester leads a movement to reform economics education.

Modern economics, mostly driven by a single theory and the least interdisciplinary of the social sciences, is not pluralistic. The profession has a rigorous language that allows complicated concepts to be written in relatively simply, abstract terms—any diversion from this is tightly managed top down from the handful top schools of economic thought. Worldviews are more individualistic. There is even convergent evidence that economists are more open about pursuing self-interest. Professional confidence stems from the profession’s promise to fix “real” world problems, with economists being placed at the ear of business executives, policymakers, and journalists alike.

The World Economic Forum and the Davos meeting has evolved its often mentioned pluralistic multi-stakeholder approach from business leadership, its origins, to a broader platform for working on global social and economic concerns. But, how pluralistic is its approach towards invited economists? How varied are the economics ideas discussed at Davos?

Our team at Davos, which comprises of economics students from the University of St. Gallen and Oxford University, will track participating economists and economic concepts, and report on the discipline’s particular role in advising this gathering of leaders.

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