Launching An Islamic Revolution in Economics

[bit.do/azai4] Final Part 4 of talk on “How Islam applies to Economics” By Dr. Asad Zaman, Ex-VC PIDE  English Re-Recording of Original 1hr talk in URDU at Econ Dept. Karachi University Monday 16th Sept 2019 — 14m Video of Part 4:

So we started this talk with the question: “(How) Does Islam apply to modern economics?”. Conventional textbooks seem to be completely unrelated to Islam. As we have seen, this is because conventional economics is about a market society based on humans lives for sale in a labor market, competition, greed, individualism, and hedonism. These values are opposed to Islamic values. Islam does NOT apply to modern economics – it tells us to reject the whole thing, and build a new economic system on entirely different foundations. Islam works on TRANSFORMING human behavior towards Cooperation, Generosity, Social Responsibility. Of course, we may object that this is too idealistic – we can never create a perfect society, where everyone acts like an angel. The answer to this objection is that Islam is concerned with PROCESS, not with OUTCOMES. That is, we are required to WORK for change, to struggle for a good society. We are not responsible to achieve success. The Prophet SAW was tasked with the responsibility of taking the Deen of Islam to all of mankind, but he was told that Guidance was solely in the hands of Allah. Similarly, we are asked to struggle to spread the ways of Islam, but the outcomes of our efforts are solely in the hands of Allah.

How can we work to create change? One effective technique is to replace conventional economics courses with radical replacements, which provide a critique of standard theories, and provide Islamic alternatives. I have developed many courses which provide alternatives to conventional courses on the basis of these principles. Before I discuss the courses, I want to provide some general advice to Muslim students and teachers of economics.

Advice to students: Students frequently become frustrated and unhappy when they learn that they have been taught false theories. It is important that you don’t give up, drop out, abandon study because all economics is based on wrong ideas. Even though economics is all wrong, these ideas are running the world today. We cannot understand what is happening in the world without learning these ideas. To have any chance of creating a viable alternative, we must understand these ideas. So we must study harder, to learn the weapons being used by the enemies.

Advice to teachers: We must teach economics in a DIFFERENT way. Don’t teach it as the TRUTH. Teach it as a theory which is used to make policy decision. Don’t focus on micro-details; how to do the calculations. Instead, understand and teach the CONCEPTS beneath the theories. See through math and technicalities, as discussed earlier. Learn how these theories are used to make policies. Teach students how to DRIVE the car, not how the ENGINE is constructed. Since the Western educational model does not teach these things, you will have to learn them on your own. My courses, described below, will provide a lot of help with them. Become a student, and learn along with your students. Use Fellow Traveller model: we are all learning together, but I am a senior learner, a little bit more experienced than the students. See my lectures on How to Become A Great Teacher for more details.

SOME NEW COURSES: As explained, I have developed alternatives to conventional courses. One of these courses is Advanced Microeconomics I [shortlink: bit.do/az4micro] This starts out by covering the Hill & Myatt: Anti-Textbook on Microeconomics. The purpose is to create a link with conventional micro. The student will learn all of the basic concepts taught in conventional micro, but in a critical fashion. The textbook goes through standard theories of micro – in context of how they are USED in the real world. Explains why the theories are wrong, and why they lead to wrong policies. There is a serious question which emerges – why do wrong theories continue to be taught, even though there is huge amount of evidence against them? The answer has to with how Power shapes Knowledge. Theories which are taught serve the interests of power. Theories like Marxism are rejected and ridiculed, not because they are wrong, but because they are harmful to the rich and the powerful. As I have explained in detail, modern economic theory is really Economic Theory of the Top 1% (ET1%) – it protects the interests of the rich and the powerful, while pretending to be objective and neutral.

This is why Islam help us launch a revolution in Economics. We need to construct a theory of the bottom 90% – ET90% – which protects the interests of the weak and powerless masses, against the rich and wealthy. As a first step, we must learn to see through the deception of conventional economics. We must study conventional theories, not as an apprentice learning the truth, but as an external observer watching a magician to learn the secrets by which he deceives the public – see Thousand Snakes: Image and Reality of Western Economics.

One of the key deceptions is the WRONG model of human behavior: homo economicus. The idea that we are all selfish and greedy, and that this is rational behavior, serves to justify and allow the rich an powerful to do whatever they want. Actually, this concept is contradicted by actual human behavior. This theory is used to justify laissez-faire economics – just let everyone do whatever they want. By the ridiculous theory of the invisible hand, if everyone behaves selfishly, the society will automatically reach the best results. See Game Theory for Humans with Hearts.

The Islamic Perspective on this is that economists have the wrong model of human behavior, and also the wrong model of what makes us happy. We can create a new basis for Micro if we start by differentiating between NEED and WANT (as discussed earlier, and in greater detail in “Scarcity: East and West”). There is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed. If we make the objective the fulfillment of NEEDS, discouraging fulfilment of Wants, and encouraging people with excess to give to those who are in need, this is enough to launch a  Revolution in Economics.

I have developed new courses in Microeconomics, which are a compromise between the full ideal Islamic course, and the current neoclassical economics courses. Advanced Microeconomics I is based on using existing alternative approaches. One of these is Behavioral Economics, which studies actual behavior of human beings, instead of the axiomatic behavior which is mathematically predictable. As we have discussed, many development in Islamic Economics can be brought into the picture, to provide genuine alternatives – see Islam’s Gift: An Economy of Spiritual Development. Closely related is Experimental Economics, which engages students in real world experiments, which allows them to see that actual human behavior is very different from what economic theories say. In particular, human beings do not optimize; they use heuristics for decision making. This makes it impossible to calculate outcomes using simple mathematical formula. A solution is provided by the techniques of Agent Based Modelling. This allows us to deal with Heterogeneity (many different types of agents). Instead of mathematically calculating outcomes, we can simulate results on a computer.  This allows us to go beyond the “equilibrium” theories of economics, which belong to nineteenth century physics. Another new development discussed in our new approach to micro is Evolutionary Game Theory. This allows to model change over time, without having any equilibrium in mind.

Advanced Microeconomics II (2018): This course is based on Holt & Davis text on Experimental Economics, it examines conventional micro theories within an experimental framework. By being subjects in experiments and by running experiments themselves students learn the vast differences and contradictions between economic theories and real-world markets. Course provides students with deep intuition about real world economics which is not available by studying formulas as in conventional courses.

Similarly, I have developed pedagogical materials and videotaped lectures on more than TEN courses. These educational materials have a Radical Design, based on Islamic Pedagogical Principles. Testing them on students, we find Radically improved educational outcomes. The principles involve teaching students how to DRIVE, and not technicalities of the Engine manufacture. That is, our courses equip students with real life skills of value in solving real world problems. This is based on the Islamic principle of providing BENEFICIAL knowledge, and of avoiding useless knowledge. In addition, teachers and students should make the intention to use knowledge to serve mankind, out of love of God. For more details about these courses, Lookup ONLINE COURSES on asadzaman.net  In particular, for  Advanced Macroeconomics, see: bit.do/az4macro  This course is based on integrating history with macro – the goal of the course is to study the real world events which led to the development of macro. Students will learn about the Great Depression, the Gold Standard, and its replacement by the Dollar in the Bretton Woods Agreement. Many aspects of the changing and evolving global economic and financial systems are discussed and studies in the new advanced macro course. The point is to enable the student to understand real world macroeconomics issues, rather than mathematical theories based on bizarre assumptions made just to make it possible to do the calculations with pencil and paper.

End of Part 4 of 4. For the earlier parts, see Part 1: How Islam relates to modern economics?, Part 2: Conflicts between Islam and Economics, Part 3: The Shock and Awe Factor. This concludes the four part lecture. May Allah T’aala make it beneficial for the Ummah of Muslimeen, and for humanity as a whole. Ameen.

This entry was posted in Critique of Conventional Economics, Education, islamic economics, Islamic Knowledge, Macroeconomics, methodology by Asad Zaman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Asad Zaman

BS Math MIT (1974), Ph.D. Econ Stanford (1978)] has taught at leading universities like Columbia, U. Penn., Johns Hopkins and Cal. Tech. Currently he is Vice Chancellor of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. His textbook Statistical Foundations of Econometric Techniques (Academic Press, NY, 1996) is widely used in advanced graduate courses. His research on Islamic economics is widely cited, and has been highly influential in shaping the field. His publications in top ranked journals like Annals of Statistics, Journal of Econometrics, Econometric Theory, Journal of Labor Economics, etc. have more than a thousand citations as per Google Scholar.

3 thoughts on “Launching An Islamic Revolution in Economics

  1. Pingback: How Islam Applies to Economics? – AZ Students

  2. Pingback: Diagnosis and Solutions for Problems Facing the Ummah | An Islamic WorldView

  3. Pingback: Building Islamic Foundations for Social Sciences | An Islamic WorldView

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