What is Heterodox Economics? Conversations with Historians of Economic Thought


Since its intellectual inception, the development of the economics discipline has been accompanied by divergence of thought. Through the years, particularly in the latter half of the twentieth century, a fissure has emerged within the discipline, sociologically dividing conventional, mainstream economics from the dissention of heterodox economics. The nature of that division, however, as well as the nature of heterodox thought is unclear. Historians of economic thought would seem to be uniquely suited to specify the nature of heterodox economics and the mechanism of its marginalization. Although anecdotal, personal interviews with historians of economic thought provide a breadth and depth of study not available through surveys with an immediacy not allowed by doctrinal examination. The purpose of this study and intent of this paper is to reveal the ways that orthodox and heterodox economics differ, whether heterodox economics has any clear research program other than criticizing the limits of the more orthodox view, and what aspects of heterodox economics remain underdeveloped, all through the lens of the historian of economic thought.

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Mary V. Wrenn wishes to acknowledge gratefully the historians of economic thought who kindly agreed to be interviewed. The author would like to thank the Goddard School of Business and Economics at Weber State University for the generous support provided through their Vitality Grant and the University for its thoughtful commitment to and support of junior faculty through the Weber Writes grant, and anonymous referees.

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Correspondence to Mary V. Wrenn.



Interview Questions

The nature of the personal interview requires questions be asked verbally. The following questions should not therefore be interpreted as a strict verbatim script by which the interviews followed, although all questions were asked of all participants.

  1. 1.

    Which history of economic thought/methodology classes have you taught?

  2. 2.

    In those history of thought/methodology classes did you and if so, how much, time did you spend discussing heterodox economics?

  3. 3.

    What qualifies a school of thought or an individual as heterodox?

  4. 4.

    Which groups of thought would you consider to be heterodox economic schools of thought?

  5. 5.

    How would you describe the relationship between different heterodox schools of thought? Between heterodox and orthodox economics? Continuum, threshold, another way to describe these relationships?

  6. 6.

    How would you describe the current state of heterodox economics?

  7. 7.

    What would you describe as the main weaknesses of heterodox economics?

  8. 8.

    What would you describe as the main strengths of heterodox economics?

  9. 9.

    Are you a heterodox economist?

  10. 10.

    Is (are) there any current world event(s) that might make heterodox economics more acceptable or incorporated into the mainstream?

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Wrenn, M.V. What is Heterodox Economics? Conversations with Historians of Economic Thought. For Soc Econ 36, 97–108 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12143-007-9002-5

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  • Heterodox economics
  • History of economic thought and methodology
  • Interviews
  • Heterodox movement
  • Pluralism