Pluralism at Risk? Heterodox Economic Approaches and the Evaluation of Economic Research in Italy
Corsi, Marcella, D'Ippoliti, Carlo, Lucidi, Federico, The American Journal of Economics and Sociology
This article aims at presenting the recent experience of Italy's first research assessment exercise (VTR, valutazione triennale della ricerca) as an internationally relevant example in highlighting a neglected aspect of the evaluation of economic research, that is, the impact of research evaluation on research practice itself.
It will be shown that particularly (but not exclusively) when financial resources are linked to the outcome of the evaluation, procedures and criteria of assessment may create strong incentives for researchers and research institutions to modify their original aims and strategies. Thus, it is crucial to set clear principles and objectives for economic research and to conduct any research assessment on the basis of these objectives. As the case of Italy shows, when pluralism is not explicitly among these goals, the assessment exercise may result in a marginalization of minority approaches, which instead, ,nay be deemed worthy of survival and cultivation, both by policymakers and the scientific community.
The case of Italy is especially suited for our aims for two reasons: on one hand, pluralism of methods and topics within economics is traditionally well established in the Italian academia (if not in absolute terms, in an international comparison). Therefore, Italy's case is convenient for exemplification but is also relevant per se, at least from the perspective of certain economic approaches. On the other hand, the recent research assessment exercise in Italy (VTR) exhibits certain characteristics that clearly highlight the risks as well as the potentiality of research evaluation, with the aim of preserving and developing heterodox economic approaches, along with providing the stimulus for a lively and healthy debate within the mainstream.
Our findings support the view that if research institutions are encouraged to engage only in the lines of research that are likely to receive the highest rating according to the evaluation criteria adopted within the VTR, a convergence process is to be expected within economics, resulting in a potential disregard of heterodox schools and historical methods, and in favor of mainstream "Anglo-Saxon" approaches and quantitative methods. Ultimately, research pluralism may be harmed. These objections have been highlighted by Lee and Harley (1998), Lee (2007), and Lee and Eisner (2008) with reference to the U.K. Research Assessment Exercise. These works show that evaluations based on the criteria of closeness to mainstream economics, by means of the subsequent allocation of funds, may shape economic research in the middle-to-long run toward the disappearance of non-mainstream research fields. Thus, a critical reflection about the rating and ranking criteria adopted in the evaluation exercise is necessary.
Specifically, we conduct a statistical analysis of the publications evaluated within the VTR, contrasting them to a comparable subsample of the EconLit dataset. Our aim is to highlight systematic patterns in the selection of the publications submitted for evaluation. The underlying hypothesis, attaching relevance to this analysis, is that research institutions in the future will discourage the development of research topics (or approaches) that they deem unsuitable for evaluation because they are less likely to be positively ranked and thus, given the link between evaluation and funding, to contribute to the institutions' budgets.
Our main point is that, if evaluation is implicitly based on the criterion of proximity to the mainstream, as it was done in Italy's case, such behavior on the side of institutions may negatively affect the financing of research projects by nonmainstream economists as well as their hiring and career prospects. On the contrary, we claim that it is advisable and indeed possible to conduct research assessments that prove rigorous in assessing quality and at the same time are respectful of pluralism. For these purposes, evaluation should be based on the principles of accountability of the evaluators, transparency of aims and processes, and fair competition of research approaches and of institutions.
This article is organized as follows: the next section briefly outlines the scope and relevance of pluralism in economic research in Italy, highlighting the historical origin and the current diffusion of "heterodox" approaches to economics in Italy. The following section describes the mechanism and procedures of the VTR. The fourth section presents the results of our statistical analysis, and our conclusions summarize the ongoing debate on the evaluation of economic research in Italy and place our contribution in this context.
On Pluralism in Economic Research
It would be well beyond the aim of the present work to provide a complete picture of all the topics and approaches to economic research currently pursued in Italy. However, it appears possible to highlight their variety and scope, in terms of a lively competition between geographical locations, public and private sector, single research centers and institutions, and most notably among alternative methodological and theoretical approaches and research fields.
As Pasinetti and Roncaglia (2006) highlight, this plurality may be considered partly as a result, and partly as a reaction, to the long period of dictatorship that Italy experienced in the 20th century.
Indeed, Italy has been at the frontier of economic research since its inception. As Roncaglia (2005) points out, we could even date it back to the Middle Ages with the Scholastic writers, or the 17th century with Bernardo Davanzati and Antonio Serra. Since the tradition of moral philosophy and humanistic studies (which political economy was a part of) was largely fostered during the Enlightenment period, it should not come as a surprise that between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, Italian writers heavily contributed to the early development of the marginalist approach to economics, for example, with Vilfredo Pareto, Maffeo Pantaleoni, and Enrico Barone.
The advent of fascism affected the development of economic research in Italy in three ways: a) it required academics to make a vow of loyalty to the Fascist Party; b) it imposed autarchy and a corporatist philosophy of the economic system; c) it promulgated racial laws. As a consequence, eminent economists (such as Piero Sraffa) decided to move out of the country, not to be involved in the totalitarian regime, or they were forced to move to avoid persecution because of their faith (as Franco Modigliani was).
The economists who stayed in Italy were isolated from the international debate and frequently focused on narrow topics such as monetary issues or business cycles, or applied issues, which afforded greater intellectual freedom from the cultural yoke of the regime. After World War II, it was rightfully decided to avoid a cleansing of these scholars, limiting the democratic reaction to the dismissal only of those few academics who were most actively involved with the dictatorship.
The survival of the old school generated a favorable environment for further development of applied economics within and outside universities. This development occurred in governmental agencies aimed at forecasting (ISCO, the Istituto di Studi sulla Congiuntura), planning (ISPE, the Istituto di Studi per la Programmazione Economica), and/or supporting policy making, for example, within ministries (as in the case of the SVIMEZ, the agency for the development of the Mezzogiorno) or the Bank of Italy. These agencies gained a certain reputation in the cultural and political debate, as did private research centers such as that of Confindustria (Italy's largest entrepreneurs' association), and within trade unions.
Overall, this institutional plurality corresponded to a certain plurality of points of view, especially concerning policy implications. However, a crucial boost to the reprise of internationally relevant economic research came from the many scholarships and grants aimed at allowing brilliant students to spend periods of study and research abroad. Partly due to the presence of the mentioned personalities of Sraffa and Modigliani, and partly because these were already attractive gravitation centers for Italian researchers, Cambridge (U.K.) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) became crucial learning centers for Italian economists, along with Oxford with John Hicks, and to some extent Harvard with J. A. Schumpeter.
The youngest generations were thus confronted with approaches rather different than that of Friedman's Chicago and the Monetarist School, being that they were more acquainted with the Austrian School and the neoclassical synthesis a la Hicks and Modigliani, or with more radical critiques and alternatives to static marginalism, especially the Keynesian and Sraffian approaches in Cambridge, and Schumpeter's evolutionary approach.
Along these lines, with the crucial contribution of students and researchers returning from periods abroad, the largest universities became autonomous centers of research and training, which developed a lively and even heated debate, though they usually did not develop their own "schools." (1)
The wide scope of methods and topics pursued by these masters determined the variety and pluralism of the subsequent generations of scholars working in Italy today. Without any pretensions to completeness and without specifying the affiliation of any scholar to a certain school of thought, it is possible to identify peculiar traits, foreign to the mainstream, and rather close to post-Keynesian and Sraffian traditions (as practiced, for example, by Luigi Pasinetti, Pierangelo Garegnani, Augusto Graziani, Claudio Napoleoni, Sergio Parrinello, Alessandro Roncaglia, Neri Salvadori, Luigi Spaventa, Mario Tonveronachi, or by international scholars who worked in Italy for certain periods, such as Jan Kregel among others); to the feminists (Tindara Addabbo, Elisabetta Addis, Francesca Bettio, Marcella Corsi, Daniela Del Boca, Antonella Picchio, Annamaria Simonazzi, Paola Villa); as well as to the evolutionists, experimentalists, and behavioralists (Giovanni Dosi, Massimo Egidi, Mauro Gallegati, or eminent foreign scholars who work also--in Italy, such as John Hey, Samuel Bowles, and Axel Leijonhufvud).
As above mentioned, these approaches flourished side by side with the cultivation of the neoclassical paradigm, more or less related to its neoclassical synthesis variant, by authors such as Tito Boeri, Francesco Giavazzi, Tullio Jappelli, Marco Pagano, Pietro Reichlin, and Guido Tabellini (to mention a few), and the Italian economists who after their studies kept working abroad (mostly in the United States and the United Kingdom): Alberto Alesina and Orazio Attanasio, for example, who frequently participate in Italy's academic and political debate.
The plurality of points of view determined in Italy a habit and openness to the debate on the foundations of our discipline, greater than in Anglo-Saxon countries, in Austria and Germany, and in some sense closer (for example) to the atmosphere emerging in France, India, or Japan.
These fundamental debates are also related to, and the cause of, a widespread cultivation of the history of economic thought (with such authors as Giancarlo De Vivo, Maria Cristina Marcuzzo, and Annalisa Rosselli), a discipline that was already considered by the older tradition of economics in Italy not as a distinct field of inquiry, but as a fundamental tool of core economic analysis.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Pluralism at Risk? Heterodox Economic Approaches and the Evaluation of Economic Research in Italy. Contributors: Corsi, Marcella - Author, D'Ippoliti, Carlo - Author, Lucidi, Federico - Author. Journal title: The American Journal of Economics and Sociology. Volume: 69. Issue: 5 Publication date: November 2010. Page number: 1495+. © 1999 American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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