Formal disciplines evolve in the context of power and established knowledge practices. Neo-classical economics is presently taught in most mainstream institutions across the world. Ecological economics (EE) is largely a sub-discipline tagged to the broader curriculum. Increasingly, “environmental economics” is offered as an elective at the undergraduate level but conceptually the syllabus is an extension of the neo-classical paradigm – quite divorced from an earth-centered jurisprudence. Perhaps this is necessary to maintain methodological rigor which unwittingly constrains the boundaries of the subject. This technical facade gives a certain legitimacy to EE. The challenge is how to bring ecological economics to the center of political economy rather than remain an appendix to it.
At many universities, a major in economics is a popular choice. In order to draw students, the core of the major is largely shaped by the job market instead of a need to be literate in the full range of economic offerings. As a result, the discipline has become sanitized – devoid of contextual offerings such as history of economic thought, comparative economic history, Marxian economics, development theory, and environmental ethics. The focus (and in some ways for good reason) is on tool oriented courses – statistics, econometrics, mathematical economics/ modeling, game theory, aimed for a more marketable degree in the public and private sector marketplace. It is possible at many universities, to take courses in the latter (technical) and virtually none in the context courses leading to a distorted world view – what economics is and how one views the world.
Over time, economics as a discipline has become hyphenated with public policy/ finance majors, but the economic content in this hybrid incarnation of the subject is minimal, usually limited to macro and micro economics with limited offerings in trade and finance. In an ironic twist – particularly in many developing countries, the distinction between finance (read corporate finance) and economics is thin. And for better or worse, it is management/ business, public policy, and finance majors who come consciously or unconsciously to shape or nudge thinking and decisions on wealth and power, as advisers, consultants, managers or entrepreneurs within the state or firms.