ICAPE's History

Motives for ICARE/ICAPE

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.

Exclusivity in the American Economic Association

Concerns about the narrowing focus and exclusivity of the economics profession have been voiced in many quarters. The American Economic Association (AEA) has itself engaged recently in bouts of self-examination, with little or no effect to date either on the AEA’s entrenched institutional habits or upon the disposition and operations of the profession. Two key AEA committees have expressed deep concerns about the nature of graduate training in economics and the near-universal homogeneity of program offerings.

In 1988, the AEA formed a Committee on Graduate Education in Economics (COGEE), chaired by Anne Krueger, who would later become president of the AEA. COGEE presented a report to the executive committee that was highly critical of the uniformity found in virtually all graduate economics programs. The text of the report is available in the Journal of Economic Literature, September 1991. There was concern that new Ph.D. graduates were failing the market test; that is, businesses, governments, and liberal-arts colleges were apparently hiring fewer new graduates and were less happy about the relevance of the training being provided. Increasing the diversification and specialization among programs was an option mentioned, a straightforward application of the well-founded principles of comparative advantage.

In 1992, a “plea for a pluralistic and rigorous economics” was published as a paid advertisement in the American Economic Review (Hodgson, Mäki, and McCloskey 1992, p. xxv). This petition was signed by forty-four leading economists, including four Nobel laureates, who called for “a new spirit of pluralism in economics, involving critical conversation and tolerant communication between different approaches” and demanding that this pluralist spirit be “reflected in the character of scientific debate, in the range of contributions in its journals, and in the training and hiring of economists.” One year later, a group of well-known heterodox economists, including Geoff Hodgson, John Adams and Terry Neale, created the International Confederation of Associations for the Reform of Economics.

ICARE’s Original Statement of Purpose

There presently exist a number of societies and associations of economists and other social scientists, all of which are united by their concern about the theoretical and practical limitations of neoclassical economics. In addition, they share the conviction that the current dominance of the subject by mainstream economics threatens academic freedom and is contrary to the norm of methodological pluralism. Furthermore, this dominance is highly detrimental to scientific creativity and debate, and to the development of realistic, innovative, and useful economic analysis and relevant policies.

There is a need for greater diversity in theory and method in economic science. A new spirit of pluralism will foster a more critical and constructive conversation among practitioners of different approaches. Such pluralism will strengthen standards of scientific inquiry in the crucible of competitive exchange. The new pluralism should be reflected in scientific debate, in scholarly conferences, in professional journals, and in the training and hiring of economists.

ICAPE is a confederation that will facilitate the exchange of information and other fruitful collaboration, with a view to a fundamental reform of the discipline of economics, by opening it to a healthier variety of interdisciplinary and other studies of economic behavior.

— Founders Meeting, Utrecht, 15 September 1993

Lack of Progress in the AEA

Despite the COGEE report and efforts of ICARE to promote pluralism, the COGEE findings and recommendations languished and effected no change in the nature or diversity of advanced professional training. In 1998, the AEA’s Committee on Journals, chaired by Thomas Schelling, a past-president of the AEA, prepared a report on the association’s three journals, the American Economic Review (AER), the Journal of Economic Perspectives (JEP), and the Journal of Economic Literature (JEL). As of early 1999, the executive committee of the AEA had taken no action in response to the committee’s challenging report nor had it been made available to the general membership.

On the issue of overrepresentation of theory and mathematics, the committee wrote,
Regarding contents of the AER, a few fairly strong preferences appear. A third of the respondents say there is too much theory, hardly any say too little; a third say there is too little empirical data, hardly any say too much; nearly three-fifths say there is too much mathematics, nobody says too little; over half say too little historical analysis, nobody says too much; three-fifths say too little policy focus, hardly any too much.

Clearly the membership would like more of certain kinds of articles, both in content and approach. In oral testimony several witnesses believed that the official journals of the AEA, especially the AER, did not welcome manuscripts in a literary non-mathematical mode, multidisciplinary manuscripts, policy-oriented manuscripts, or manuscripts outside the “mainstream.”

Recognizing that without a change in the method of selection of the AEA journals’ editors, it would be unlikely for manuscript handling practices and journal contents to become more open, the Schelling committee argued for more transparent procedures. At present, the selection of editors is handled behind closed doors with essentially no input from the membership. Two of the journals, the JEP and the JEL do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, so that their authors and contents are determined almost entirely by editorial decisions. In effect, the selection of the editors of these journals determines the character of two of the most prestigious journals in the profession. Although there has been recent turnover in the editorships, two of the three are now housed at Princeton University.

The Schelling committee recommended that:
The boards of editors of the three journals need to reflect the diverse interests of the AEA membership. When candidates are proposed, the Executive Committee should consider not only the merits of individual board members but the composition of the entire board. Board members should be sought who can identify and recruit manuscripts that might otherwise be discouraged from submission; boards should reflect diversity in fields, in methodologies, in schools of thought, in institutions, and in geography. Board members who represent “non-standard” skills and orientations should be responsible for bringing in manuscripts.

Like the COGEE report before it, the Schelling report accurately perceived the gap between core AEA practices and their impact on putative professional standards and reputations, and the working lives of the mass of the association’s membership. The determinations and recommendations of the two committees were hailed by pluralistic economists, policy-oriented practitioners, and those economists whose work is devoted primarily to the instructional needs of the nation’s undergraduates. Nonetheless, more than a decade later we see that the tensions among the disparate segments of the profession persist but the AEA remains locked into particular modes of thought and institutionalized patterns of conduct.

Definitive evidence on the tightly oligarchic symbiosis of the AEA’s journal editorships, journal acceptance policies, and a dozen or so Ph.D.-granting departments is contained in an article appearing the February 1999 issue of the Economic Journal: “The Editors and Authors of Economic Journals: A Case of Institutional Oligopoly?” The authors, Geoffrey M. Hodgson and Harry Rothman, show that “70.8 per cent of the journal editors were located in the United States, and twelve U. S. universities accounted for the location of more than 38.9 per cent. Concerning journal article authors, 65.7 per cent were located in U.S. institutions and twelve U.S. universities accounted for 21.8 per cent.” They add, “Arguably, the degree of institutional and geographical concentration of editors and authors may be unhealthy for innovative research in economics.”

There is compelling evidence for the need to open up the nation’s, and in fact the world’s, most important economic association, the AEA, to a wider range of views and participants. The interlocking nexus of relations among the dominant Ph.D.-granting departments, journal editorships and authorships, and the self-selecting AEA leadership remains an institutional Gordian knot, despite heavy external criticism and persistent internal soul-searching. A starting point would be to require that the AEA’s executive and editorial boards mirror the pluralism of the profession and that all contain representatives of master’s and bachelor’s degree institutions.

Global Emergence of New Heterodox and Pluralistic Economic Associations

A second cause for the foundation of ICAPE was the spontaneous emergence in the United States, Europe, Japan, Australia, and elsewhere of new heterodox groups that actively distanced themselves from the orthodox camp. Some of these traced their roots to earlier traditions in institutional economics, some sought greater policy relevance, and others were predicated on bringing economists and other scholars together in multidisciplinary forums. Despite some overlapping of their memberships, there was a lack of knowledge about the existence of similar organizations, little attempt to coordinate activities, and limited sharing of calls for papers. ICARE was conceived as a means of improving communication among these groups and their members and facilitating coordination. ICARE became ICAPE when it was decided to promote the idea of Pluralism more directly. Generally, this process has been initiated but much remains to be done.

One conspicuous consequence of the homogenization of economics has been a loss of methodological pluralism. A second is a deflection of interest from social issues and their political context. A third is that economics as a science has lost its connections to the other social sciences; to evolutionary biology, the life sciences, and psychology; and, to its own intellectual history. In contrast to the orthodox core, as a broad generalization, ICAPE participants represent a spectrum of approaches to economics, are concerned with using varied forms of analysis to confront policy issues, and are sympathetic to crossdisciplinary scholarship. They style themselves institutionalists, evolutionary economists, post-Keynesians, economic rhetoricians, systems theorists, feminists, economic historians, ecological economists, historians of thought, and political economists. Some are quite mathematical and empirical, others rely mostly on the logic of the written word.

In total, there are six clusters of ICAPE resource groups: associations, journals, publishers, departments, research centers, departments, and special projects. Associations are scholarly organizations, most of which hold meetings annually or biannually; some are strongly national, others are markedly international; some are narrowly oriented, others offer wide pluralistic umbrellas. Journals may be associated with an association, or independent. In either case their editorial stance features openness to diversity and ferment in economics. Publishers have book lists that prominently feature heterodox authors, and are actively seeking new manuscripts. They may offer special discounts to association members.

The departments offer graduate and undergraduate programs that embrace a heterogeneity of approaches to economics. The research centers are oriented to policy analysis that relies on solid economics that may depart from and challenge the conventional orthodox wisdom.

Special projects include unique conferences, ongoing symposia, or extraordinary publishing exercises. Examples are summer workshops to introduce students to heterodox economics, encyclopedia collections devoted to evolutionary and institutional economics, or recurrent colloquia devoted to methodology, post-Keynesianism, or Austrian economics.

ICAPE Activities

ICAPE’s primary purpose going forward is to organize regular conferences that bring the heterodox associations and those committed to economic pluralism together.