The problems with the CORE economics textbook

This post documents concerns with the CORE economics textbook, which is promoted as a great improvement over current neoclassical texts. In reality, it gives the appearance of change without changing much.

This post was inspired by Christian Reilly’s response to an-otherwise-good thread by Cory Doctorow.

(Note that this post does not contain anything directly related to Modern Money Theory (MMT).)

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These resources were created by Activist #MMT, the podcast (Twitter, Facebook, web, please consider becoming a monthly patron). This post was last updated May October 20, 2021.

Disclaimer: I am a layperson who has studied MMT since February of 2018. I’m not an economist or academic and I don’t speak for the MMT project. The information in this post is my best understanding but I don’t assert it to be perfectly accurate. In order to ensure accuracy, you should rely on the expert sources linked throughout. If you have feedback to improve this post, please get in touch.


Link to tweet

It’s not possible to accurately measure GDP from a thousand years ago, when the very concept of economics didn’t exist, let alone GDP. But even if it could be measured, the idea that it’s somehow comparable to the GDP of today is ridiculous.

Bill Mitchell

Two quotes from the 2017 post by Bill Mitchell, Paradigm shift – not from the CORE Econ Project – as mainstream as you will get:

The book is replete with the standard neo-liberal monetary myths and is just dressed up to appear to be a progressive development.

[…]

The CORE project, despite its claims to the contrary, is a major disappointment and a waste of the significant funds that have been spent to develop the textbook.

The 2017 book, The Econocracy

This document (docx) by Aashish Velkar (which is the first listed in the References section at the back of The Econoncracy) describes problems with simplistic assumptions made regarding the historical reality and definition of the Industrial Revolution, which the rest of the CORE text book is based upon. A quote:

3) The biggest problem for me about the whole discussion of the period – stemming from the narrow definition of the IR – is the absence of the demand-side. Technological change is not only driven by ‘demand’ for inventions as S2.4 explains, but also by ‘demand’ for products and services. Improvements in textile technologies were also influenced by demands for ‘finer’ or better quality textiles. Similarly, the IR was characterized by technologies introduced for the production and marketing of pottery and ceramics as much as substituting capital for labour in textiles. This eventually reflects upon how the text defines capitalism, but some attempt to balance the supply and demand sides would have made the presentation of the historical periods a bit more convincing.

Final Remark: The IR was a series of interrelated changes, not just technological, but also sociological in nature. If the IR is to be embedded in the narrative of capitalism and modern economic growth then it needs to be presented in its broader form as most historians do.

From The Econocracy, starting on page 110:

CORE’s advocates seem genuinely committed to improving economics education, but to us this appears to be the kind of reform that ends up preserving much of the status quo and undermining more fundamental calls for change. Economists who would usually oppose any change to curricula, in the face of rising student discontent, accept the reforms CORE offers in the belief that, ‘to stay the same we must change’.

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In a similar way, economists Simon Wren-Lewis and Diane Colyle have argued in defense of CORE on the grounds that ‘we need reform in the way economics is taught, but not a revolution’.

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Importantly, students are not encouraged to question neoclassical economics anywhere in the CORE syllabus. The three prints of neoclassical economics outlined in Chapter 2 – individualism, optimization and equilibrium – are simply accepted as true throughout.

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As it does with economic theory, CORE interprets historical events from only one, contested perspective without acknowledging that it is doing so.

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… CORE takes the third prong of neoclassical economics – equilibrium – as a given, ignoring perspectives that disagree, and as a consequence leads the student to believe that there is only one right way to study the economy.

Below you will find the full section containing the above quotes.

(Although we don’t discuss CORE directly, here’s my February 2021 interview on Econocracy plus two other books, with Dirk Ehnts and Asker Voldsgaard.)