ICAPE was originally founded as the International Confederation of Associations for the Reform of Economics (ICARE). The impulse for ICARE derived from globally pervasive dissatisfaction with postwar trends in the discipline of economics. The exact timing of its debut in the mid-1990s was a consequence of two interacting forces, one the rise to a near-monopoly position of what is usually called neoclassical or orthodox economics, a circumstance manifested as obviously as anywhere in the exclusion of non-conventional participants from the officerships of the American Economic Association, the editorial boards of the profession’s journals (the American Economic Review, the Journal of Economic Literature, and the Journal of Economic Perspectives), and from access to panels at the annual conferences of the organization.
Led by developments in the United States, economics has become increasingly dominated by the traditional neoclassical mainstream, to the point where it is difficult to identify more than a handful of graduate programs that do not follow the orthodox canon. Virtually all departments have become controlled by advocates of a single view of what economics is about and how it should be practiced. The involuted extension of the theory of markets, frequently by applying abstruse mathematical techniques, has become the sine qua non of the profession. Arcane proof receives louder applause than social purpose.
Trends established in the profession in the United States are spreading, with some lag, to Europe and Japan, threatening to reduce the rich variety of traditions of economic thought on the global stage. This is in part due to the fact that many economists are trained in the United States and then return to home universities and research centers, carrying with them the neoclassical ethos they have imbibed. Following the American model, standards for recruitment, promotion, salaries, and grants are shifting in favor of neoclassical, quantitative, and theoretical criteria. Although still not fully completed, the parallel processes of homogenization and methodological uniformity are steadily advancing in Europe and Asia.
Young economists are rewarded more for adroit conformity with technical fads than the courage or creativity of their ideas. Many practitioners, including more than a few senior orthodox figures, lament the pervasive loss of relevance, a symptom confirmed by the declining influence of economists in government and by their diminishing employment in private banks and businesses. As the end of the century approaches, economics has moved into an institutionalized equilibrium trap, its own peculiar Huis Clos.