Challenging the Current Economics Curriculum

Creating Challengers and Change

Asad Zaman


Pakistan Institute of Development Economics


Numerous crises involving finance, inequality, environment have shown that current economic theories lack the capability of addressing or even formulating the problems we face collectively as human beings. There are many calls for changing the syllabus of economics to make it more relevant. This paper argues that the root of the problem lie much deeper than most reformers have realized. It goes back to over-reliance on facts and logic, and disregard of the reasons of the heart. We must extend our definition knowledge to include spiritual and moral knowledge, which is beyond the reach of science. We must reject the irrational pursuit of wealth, which is the spirit of capitalism, and seek more human and humane objectives of living. We must learn to recognize that the essence and heart of economics is an (often concealed) discourse about equity and justice. We must reject the metaphor of the machine which leads us to believe in “natural laws” of economics. To create meaningful syllabus change requires creating inner spiritual transformation: We must become the change that we wish to create in the world.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 13

Keywords: Spiritualilty, Morality, Logical Positivism, Purpose

JEL Classification: B49, B59

Accepted Paper Series


Please read the first two pages here

How does it happen that we have given our quiet assent to a situation where the richest 85
individuals have more money than the bottom 3.5 billion? Where vultures wait for starving
children to die, while others eat luxurious meals on private resort islands? Where horrendous
military and commercial crimes leading to deaths, misery, and deprivations of millions are
routinely committed by highly educated men with multimillion dollar salaries in luxury
corporate and government suites?
A core component of the answer to these critical questions is that we have been educated to
believe that this is a normal state of affairs, which comes about through the operation of iron
laws of economics. Economic theories currently being taught in universities all over the world
are an essential pillar which sustains the economic system currently in operation. These
theories state that we (human beings) are cold, callous, and calculating. Microeconomic theory
says rational individuals are concerned only with their own consumption. They are callous;
completely indifferent to the needs of others. They maximize, calculating personal benefits to
the last penny. They are cold – their decisions are not swayed by emotions of any kind. All this
theorizing is not without power – it creates the world we live in, and the rules we live by.
We have even been taught that laissez-faire automatically brings about the best possible
outcomes. We are told that the rich are efficient wealth producers and deserve their wealth, just
as the poor deserve their poverty. To create a labor market to sustain capitalist production
processes, we have been trained to believe that our lives are for sale to the highest bidder.
Besides, we have been educated to believe that we are powerless to change things. We have
been trained to laugh at the idea that human lives are infinitely precious. We have been made to
forget that each moment of our lives is unique – each moment contains potentials which never
existed before, and will never come into being again. Only by re-defining what is worth living
for, and what is worth dying for, can we strike at the heart of the capitalist process of
When we talk about curriculum change, we are talking about creating new theoretical
foundations to observe and intervene in the world we live in. This is not a project for the faint-
of-heart, especially because the rich and powerful spend huge amounts of wealth and energy in
preserving this status-quo, and resist efforts to change these social realities with all their might.
The project of speaking truth to power is severely handicapped by our educationwhich
conditions our vision of the truth.Our theories of knowledge state that good and evil do not
exist. We have been taught rules of intellectual discourse which forbid appeals to the heart and
soul. We have thereby been deprived of our most powerful weapons in the eternal battle against
evil. Modern education has turned us into soulless zombies, consumption and sex machines,
human resources, and inputs into the production function for wealth. The vast majority of the
populace has been paralyzed with poisonous ways of thinking, and the small minority which
retains the capacity for thought and action has also been badly damaged by these same poisons.

Before talking about curriculum change, we must redeem our souls. How can this be done?The
first step in curriculum change requires the creation of teachers who have a clear understanding
of the challenge that we face. These teachers must de-program themselves to cleanse their hearts.

Given that we battle against overwhelming odds, our teachers must be rocks of courage,
fortitude, and stamina. Also essential is a sense of humor to enable us to laugh at the massive
forces arrayed against us – without this, we would die of despair. Also required is a deep
commitment to the cause, which is giving hope to and enriching the lives of billions living,
entirely un-necessarily, in abject conditions. Our hearts must be full of compassion, and feel the
sharp pangs of the pain felt by the parents who have to choose between buying expensive
medicines for the sick child, or food for the family. We have to empower ourselves, and believe
that we can make a difference.
The world we live in is constructed from structures of thought that we have internalized, far
more than bricks and concrete. Unfortunately, many of these dominant structures are poisonous
to our own happiness as well as general welfare of mankind. Changing our ways of thinking is
not just a matter of reading and understanding. Rather, the process involves acquiring new
ways of looking at the world and new tools for manipulating reality – eerily parallel to the
taking of a reality pill in a popular movie. Healing ourselves requires time, effort and
cooperation of like minded friends. A first step in creating a new curriculum must be
detoxification of our own minds and hearts. In terms of the Gandhian precept, we have to ‘Be
the change that you wish to see in the world.’ This requires analyzing the nature of the
toxins we have ingested, and their removal. Some of the broad areas which require work are
listed below.

Materialism led to the belief that thoughts were fluid secretions of the brain. Descartes thought
that the soul was a gland in that brain 3 . Since the gland was not found, and we couldn’t isolate,
quantify, measure or weigh them, we came to believe that souls do not exist.We have been
trained to believe that the heart is only an organ which pumps blood. This education leads us to
override direct physical evidence provided by our own body of how our hearts respond to
danger, thrill, anxiety, love, sorrow and happiness. Even though the essence of humanity is
spirituality, this word has been removed from our lexicon, making us unable to think clearly
about its meaning and significance in our daily lives.
One of the elements responsible for this loss is logical positivism, which denies existence to
subjective experiences which are not “observable,” and cannot be subjected to scientific
scrutiny. One of the leading proponents of positivism, A. J. Ayer, recanted later in life, saying that
denying the reality of inner emotional states was akin to “feigning anaesthesia 4 .” We have been
trained to feign anaesthesia regarding our souls for so long that we have actually become numb,
unable to feel the stirrings of our souls. The root of spirituality is compassion – the ability to
directly and intuitively sense the pain that others feel. We are born as spiritual beings; babies
laugh in merry company, and can sense the grief of others. The most spiritual of humans have
deep hearts, which are connected on the spiritual level with all other human beings. Selfish….


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Contact Information

Asad Zaman (Contact Author)
Pakistan Institute of Development Economics ( email )

Quaid-i-Azam University Campus
P.O.Box 1091
Islamabad, Federal Capital 44000