Sydney's heterodox economists

Inaugural Australian Society of Heterodox Economists conference
Peter Kriesler

Let me start this brief report on my impressions of the conference by making a few remarks about how it came to be. I am sure that there is no need for me to talk to reiterate the importance of a separate conference on heterodox economics. The impetus for this conference was the result of growing dissatisfaction with conventional economics, and with the lack of an appropriate forum to discuss heterodox ideas. In July, a number of people from three of the Sydney universities got together and decided that we would test the waters and see if there was interest in having a conference. As there was very little notice given, we did not think that too many people would come or give papers, hence the low key nature of the conference and organisation.

Happily, we were wrong. We were overwhelmed by offers of papers and people wanting to attend, so much so that we had to schedule parallel sessions. People attended from across Australia, from New Zealand, Korea, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Romania and Norway. We had e-mails of support from all over the world, with many promises to attend any future conference.

The program itself covered an interesting and broad spectrum of heterodox economics. Two particular aspects of the discussion stood out. The first was that, unlike heterodox sessions in "regular" conferences, presenters did not feel that they had to place themselves within a context to be understood by neoclassical economists. Except for one paper specifically critical, most papers ignored neoclassical economics. There was no need to explain what we were trying to do to outsiders, people were able to get on and do economics to an audience who, even when they did not agree with the ideas, at least understood where they came from, and the context in which they appeared. There were no silly questions, as when one of my colleagues at UNSW asked John King, who was giving a papers on the future of Marxism for the twenty first century, on why a neoclassical economists should be interested in this Marx fellow!

The second was the positive spirit of the conference. In many conferences, people ask questions in order to point score or to show off. Here there was a genuine sense of camaraderie, with advise being offered, useful references given and so on. There was a pleasant buzz around most of the sessions.

Throughout the conference a number of themes emerged. The first was the general agreement that federal government deficits were needed during times of unemployment. The nature of the deficit was more controversial, but most speakers agreed that government spending, especially on infrastructure, health and education, the last two (particularly in the Anglo-Saxon countries) was needed. We were reminded that governments do not need to "finance" their expenditure as such. Government expenditure occurs via Central banks creating liabilities against the government, which, of course directly influence the money supply. Taxes and/or borrowing from the private sector do not finance that expenditure in the way in which households finance their expenditures by income or borrowing. Rather, they have the effect of undoing the increase in effective demand originating from the original expenditure.

The second major theme was the changing nature of the global capitalist economy, with one paper going as far as questioning whether the result was still capitalism. The implications of the changing rules of the game caused by the dominance of the neoliberal agenda, and the impact of this on the fundamental institutions, and on globalisation, accumulation and on financial markets, including superannuation and derivatives were the subject of a number of papers.

The Conference also held a business meeting at which a number of issues were discussed and a number of decisions made. It was agreed that a discussion forum be maintained, which Trond Andresen kindly agreed to host at: http://www.itk.ntnu.no/mailman/listinfo/she_forum. The name of the "group" was discussed with Heterodox Economics Network (HEN) being an early reject and Society of Heterodox Economics (SHE) narrowly defeating Oceanic Progressive Economics Network (OPEN) : so SHE it is. It was also agreed that the Conference should run annually, with the next one also being at the University of New South Wales, on 15 and 16 December 2003. So consider this advance notice!

We are in the process of developing a dedicated website to SHE, but, in the meantime, the conference site is still in use, and has been recently updated to include a list of conference attendees, and the minutes of the business session.


Peter Kriesler is Associate Professor in the School of Economics at the University of New South Wales, where the Inaugural Australian Society of Heterodox Economists Conference was held on 9-10 December, 2002. Visit the conference website.


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