The neo-classical publication monopoly: a case for anti-competition policies?

Jul 31, 2018 by

Few universities, almost all from North America and Western Europe, together with 5 Economic journals, account for almost the 80% of all the citations in the field of Economics.

This is what emerged from a presentation by Ernest Aigner, where he used a bibliometric analysis of academic publications related to Economics.

What does this mean?

It reflects an impressive and also very persistent concentration around some specific geographical areas (US, EU) and some specific economic models – the “neoclassical” – which is so commonly spread and taken for granted as to be referred to as “mainstream”.

But does “mainstream” mean “correctness”?

Actually if we analyze how the citation field works, we realize that it is based on mathematical algorithms that favour the knowledge that already has great visibility, leaving aside possible outsiders and reinforcing this self-perpetuating system.The natural consequence is the difficulty of heterodox or alternative visions (for instance ecological economics, feminist economics, etc) to emerge and to gain relevance. In fact, even criticizing the current system, these proposals are ironically increasing its visibility.

The academic field, especially the economic one, operates therefore as a system based on quantity, but doesn’t necessarily reflect quality. And it does so with a non-scientific (and sometimes a bit arrogant?) attitude: external collapses, like the Soviet Union downfall, are interpreted as a confirmation of the predominance of the neoclassical models, whereas the recurrent severe financial crises are perhaps not ignored, but  do not seem to have the same degree of influence to change of perspectives.Economics claims to be a hard science, but struggles to accept data or empirical situations that deeply contradict its models. It finds therefore big difficulties in accepting paradigm shifts that require a considerable change in its assumptions.

So, how can we deal with that?

Apart from remaining critical towards so-called “experts”: perhaps it might be time to apply the same precepts that neoliberalism loves to profess: a free, competitive market of ideas. That would introduce real anti-competition policies as we see them applied in, say,  manufacturing industries, in order to break down the monopoly of one predominant and autopoietic vision. It seems necessary to somehow “decentralize” the “academic industry” in order to give voice to other, different opinions and initiatives.

Written by: Maria Zinutti and Ferdinand Kovacic

Based on the lecture by: Ernest Aigner (“Nature and Money in Economics: a pluralist introduction”)