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This an article that covers the main themes of Taun N. Toay’s “Trumponomics” Lecture which includes his insights on polling, the working class, the appeal of Trump, the economic effect of his policies and his view on the resistance. Then the article continues with my personal experience of an anti-Trump protest that I attended and my reflections about what this type of dissent means.

Trumponomics lecture poster (Credit: Bard College Berlin)

Trumponomics lecture poster (Credit: Bard College Berlin)

On the 2nd of February, in the times of pre-judicial halts of Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban Executive Order, the students and faculty of Bard College Berlin had the pleasure (and discomfort) of listening to Taun N. Toay’s lecture “Trumponomics: How the United States Accepted Authoritarian Populism”. Taun N. Toay is the Annandale-based Managing Director of Bard College Berlin and of the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College. Armed with his economic background, Toay aimed to give a crowd of concerned U.S. and non-U.S. citizens an economics-centered explanation of this political phenomenon that most of us mention at least once a day now, because, honestly, how can we not?

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Poster for the 2015 conference of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Paris

Poster for the 2015 conference of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, Paris

A spectre is haunting economics – or maybe several even. Which ones exactly––the field is not quite agreed on, but it seems to have reached the conclusion that, really, it can’t go on like this. New approaches are called for, new ideas are sought after. To this end, the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), founded and funded primarily by star investor, philanthropist, and Karl Popper student George Soros, gathered an impressive array of leading economists for a four-day conference with the title “Liberté, Egalité, Fragilité” to debate the future of the field in Paris in early April. Present were, among others, the two Nobel Prize laureates Joseph Stiglitz and James Heckman, rising star Thomas Piketty, neo-classicists (roughly, “right-wing economists”) like Hans-Werner Sinn, erratic Marxists like the Greek Minister of Finance Yanis Varoufakis, and, last but not least, Bard College Berlin’s own Dirk Ehnts, all joined by a range of scholars from outside the field, like neuroscientist Antonio Damasio or Goethe biographer Nicholas Boyle.

Curious to see where the discipline that defines so much of public life is heading today, I went to catch some of the talks. The concerns raised were sometimes timeless–how should economists think about human beings?–and sometimes very timely, for example in discussions of inequality or the current crisis in Greece. Below is a selection of panels to give you a glimpse of some of the problems that economists think about these days when they turn to the very edge – or core, depending on how you see it – of their discipline.

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Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of Finance Steffen Kampeter speaks at the conference (Photo: Timothy Fadek)

From November 26th to 27th, ECLA of Bard had the great opportunity to co-organize the annual Hyman P. Minsky Conference on Financial Instability together with the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. Already at its 22nd edition, the conference was held at the Deutsche Bank in Berlin and had the topic of “Debt, Deficits, and Unstable Markets.”

For two days, leading economists and policymakers from both sides of the Atlantic gathered to discuss recent economic developments, problems and possible solutions.

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ECLA Guest Lecture: David Colander on Economics and the Liberal Arts

David Colander

Colander began by pointing out that the goal of economics lies beyond textbook catch phrases such as optimization and efficient allocation of resources. Rather, it should be the creation of excellent decision-makers, who are instrumental not only in achieving society’s goals effectively through rigorous quantitative analysis, but also in defining these goals.

To do that, one needs broad understanding of the inter-relations between various disciplines, as well as big-picture thinking in the tradition of the liberal arts education. In this context, Colander criticized the tendency within the economic discipline – especially at graduate level – to shape specialists, who devote more time to deepening their understanding of a narrow niche, and less time to addressing those fundamental questions which can be answered differently, depending on different criteria; which have no definitive solutions but also tend to be the most interesting. This phenomenon, Colander explained, might be related to the incentives for professors to do research, given that more publications usually mean faster advancement in one’s career.

Colander said that although being a specialist does not preclude a broader trans-disciplinary grasp, it is nevertheless very challenging to strike the right balance between depth and breadth of knowledge (another version of this question is the allocation of time between a student’s major and so-called “general education” classes at liberal arts schools). In aid to this quest, Colander saw broader applications of technology in education, which might transform profoundly the way universities operate with the changes either imposed by the emergence of other competing models for education-provision, or internally driven by the institutions themselves.

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