The three Cs of economics

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There are three words that you will hardly hear mentioned in a neoclassical economics class.

These words are not forbidden, these topics are not banned, but we prefer not to discuss them. 

Capitalism. Consumerism. Corporations.

Considering how fundamentally important these three subjects are to the study of economics, one should critically question why there aren’t any courses specifically addressing these matters. We don’t use the “c-word” in economics, capitalism—even though it is what we are learning. If we used the word capitalism, we would be referring to our present economic system, which would imply there was a past (feudalism) and a future.

Rather, we use the ahistorical term “economics” as synonymous to capitalism, even though economics signifies plurality. There is no beginning and there is no end to the economic system. “How did capitalism come into being?” the economics minor asks. “You silly little undergraduate,” the neoclassical professor replies, “save your questions for graduate school. Here, we are in the serious scientific study of price discriminating consumers to maximize our firm’s profit.”

But let’s not talk about that.

There aren’t any courses devoted to consumerism either, even though it’s essential for economic growth. If lectures of consumerism were taking place in economic classes, then students might question depending on infinite depletion of Earth’s natural resources to maintain economic stability. Students might even begin demanding courses teaching alternative perspectives, such as ecological economics.  “But neoclassical professor, why don’t we require businesses to internalize the cost of climate change when they are the main polluters?”

But let’s not talk about that.

Most importantly, we rather not use the word “corporations”; there is a preference to call them “firms” in order to minimize their significance. After all, it is for the corporations that we want free markets. If students were to study corporations a bit more in depth, then they will discover that free markets don’t exist because corporations have market power.

In addition, these corporations tend to be quite generous when it comes to donating money to universities. We wouldn’t want to teach our students theories that are too critical of our buddies in Wall Street would we now? 

But let’s not talk about that. 

When there are no courses educating students on the criticisms of capitalism, how are solutions expected to emerge? When there is no discussion of the lively debate within the economics discipline, students are not being taught economics, they are learning a political ideology. Let’s all congratulate the economists at the Federal Reserve, at the World Bank and at the International Monetary Fund for accurately preventing the Great Recession with their neoclassical theory.

Let’s give these “scientists” a pat on the back for their 19th century philosophy that solved climate change, addressed wealth inequality and ended overproduction. In the study of economics, we are not here to question the status quo – we help promote corporate interests. 

But shh, don’t tell them I told you the secret keywords.