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Zhang Shuguang:Keeps Independence and the Bottom Line of Norms and Ethics


The greatest achievement of economics received in China in the past three decades since reform and opening up is the transition from traditional socialism economics to the current mainstream economics or modern economics. The transition is basically completed. The biggest progress of economics over these years lies in the improvement of methodologies and tools, in which the younger generation in particular is much better trained. There is no doubt that lots of teachers in universities contribute to the progress.


However, it brings two major problems in economics research. First, a large number of essays are on empirical research, which, in fact, is kind of an exercise. Since it only copies or slightly changes existing models, adds data from statistical yearbook or databases, then conducts regression analysis, and produces conclusions. Another one is providing consulting services to authorities. While these consultancy is not concluded from theoretical analysis, or based on empirical research or theories. Most of them is what should to do and how to do them.


However, these so-called policy recommendations can not be applied into practice, thus these studies on policies or consultancy are meaningless. The current situation is different from that in 80s. In 80s, we started to transit planned economy to market economy. At that time, decision makers knew and were familiar with planned economy but not market economy, that’s why they were eager to learn about market economy. Thus, decision makers took theories on commodity economy and market economy and consultancy directly, and they read reports and briefs themselves. But things are different after 30 years since reform and opening up. Decision makers now know of market economy and understand macroeconomic adjustment. Consultancy becomes much less important and unnecessary.


Things has changed, and we can not stop at the current level for ever. It is indeed hart to promote economics in China, thus more efforts are needed. Today, we set up the National Economics Foundation, which plays an important role to promote the development of economic theories in China.


In face of the current situation, the economic community and many other aspects of life can not keep the bottom line of academic norms and ethics. Many break the bottom line. Many phenomena demonstrate an impetuous academic circle where misconduct and plagiarism occur frequently. Here is an example. Large numbers of doctoral students and masters are admitted every year, and theses produced every year amounts to over ten thousand, or even hundreds of thousands of words. Thesis defense is arranged in May and June. Who can read each paper from start to finish before attending the defense? I would say few can do that. What about doctoral theses? Economics can only be improved and developed if fewer doctoral students to be admitted, so that doctoral advisors can take due responsibilities to thoroughly read through theses, and give valuable comments and discussions at the defense. Only by this way, the research level can be improved! How to achieve improvements under the current “sheep-herding” education mode? Besides, lots essays do get published, but many editors provide careless reviews. I’ve read many essays over these years and found some mistakes. An essay carrying over 300 misplaced data, wrong formula and concepts should be published on journals claiming to be authoritative. What’s worse, editors replace errors with other errors, and some even refuse to correct. How can the research be improved?


Take reading as an another example. The Internet facilitates information dissemination. While 30 years ago, China was isolated from the world with blocked information and ideological control. Foreign books at that time could not come in, and many information was inaccessible. But now, limits are lifted, and books can be bought at stores or downloaded from the Internet. Then how about the reading in China? How many books do we read thoroughly every year? I asked some college students what books did they read? They told me they did not have time to read. There are various social activities on campus. Students have time to participate in a variety of social activities which can earn credits, but do not have time to read. I told them that the university life was in vain if hundreds of classic books, whether they are professional or non-professional, were not read. But the current status quo is students do not spend time in reading, and that students do not have reading habit.


How should come to this? I suppose lack of independence is the major reason. Scholars and academics are neither independent from authorities nor money, or the public. Lack of independence leaves scholars to be led by authorities, money, the public, or something else, rather than to follow their own willing, preferences or interests. So how can we make due contributions to economics? How can we innovate? Numerous facts have proved that one can only make great contributions by following their own interests, with which they are willing to devote efforts and explore on them. This is the only possible way to be innovative, or otherwise how to create?


From this perspective, how the Chinese economists hold the bottom line for academic norms and ethics is an important issue, otherwise the pure land of academia will be a den of iniquity. Therefore, change the current situation should be the top priority.









◆please indicate the source if authorized: National Economics Foundation

◆photo:National Economics Foundation