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Professor Roderick O'Donnell


Rod O'Donnell was appointed as Professor of Economics in 2009 on a 0.5 fractional, renewable contract.  Formerly Professor of Economics at Macquarie University, he has an outstanding research and teaching reputation.  He describes himself as a 'conceptual economist' -- his research covers a number of fields but is primarily  focused on the thought of JM Keynes, pluralist economics, the foundations of economic reasoning and the teaching of economics.  As well as books, journal papers and book chapters, he currently holds an ARC Grant to prepare a multi-volume edition of Keynes's remaining unpublished writings. In teaching he holds five teaching awards, including  a 2013 Australian Government Excellence in University Teaching Award.  He is co-editor of the Australian Journal of Economics Education, and was a member of the 2012-13 Economics Learning Standards Working Party.


Australian Government, Office for Learning and Teaching:   2013, Award for University Teaching Excellence

University of Technology, Sydney :  2012, UTS Teaching Award (Individual Teacher Category)

Australian Government, Learning and Teaching Council: 2008, Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning

Macquarie University: 2006, Outstanding Teacher Award; 1997, Outstanding Teacher Award.

2012-13  Member of Economics Learning Standards Working Party.

2006-13  Member and Deputy Chair of Academic Board of Insearch.

2007-               Editor, and co-editor, of Australasian Journal of Economics Education.  Revived this journal which was in danger of ceasing publication.

2004-               Editorial Board Member, Australasian Journal of Economics Education, History of Economics Review, Journal of Peer Learning.

Professor, Economics Discipline Group
BEc, BE (Civil), BA, MEngSc, PhD
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Research Interests

1. Macroeconomics

  • The economic thought of J.M. Keynes
  • Modern interpretations of Keynes’s economics
  • Post Keynesian economics

          2. Major Supplementary Keynes Edition

 To complete the significant unpublished writings of J.M. Keynes in all areas of his thought (approximately 12 vols).

3. Pluralist Economics

All major schools of contemporary economic thought – basic assumptions, conceptual frameworks, modes of analysis and conclusions.  Includes Neoclassical, Post Keynesian, Institutionalist, Ecological, Austrian, Marxist, Behavioural and Feminist Economics.

         4. Uncertainty and Risk

Probabilistic and non-probabilistic treatments, and their implications for economic theory and policy.

5. Teaching economics

  • Fostering valuable graduate attributes in students using pluralist curricula and activity-based pedagogy (including public speaking, creativity, leadership, gender and cultural awareness).
  • Contemporary methods of teaching economics – weaknesses and strengths.
  • Threshold concepts.

         6. Philosophy

  • The philosophical foundations of economic thought
  • Philosophies of probability and their implications for economics
  • Uses and abuses of formalism in economics.

7.  History of Economic Thought

  • Uncertainty and risk
  • Macroeconomics
  • J.M. Keynes,
  • F.H. Knight
  • R.F. Harrod.

8. Microeconomics

       Opportunity cost and its role in value theory.

Alternative Perspectives in Contemporary Economics; Economics for Business; Macroeconomics: Theory and Applications.


O'Donnell, R. 2014, 'What do Graduate Attributes Have to do with Political Economy?' in Schroeder, S. & Chester, L. (eds), Challenging the Orthodoxy: Reflections on Frank Stilwell's Contribution to Political Economy, Springer, Berlin, pp. 57-76.
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O'Donnell, R. 2013, 'Two Post-Keynesian approaches to uncertainty and irreducible uncertainty' in Harcourt, G.C. & Kriesler, P. (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Post-Keynesian Economics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, pp. 124-142.
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Uncertainty, especially irreducible uncertainty, is an essential component of Keyness General Theory and of post-Keynesian economics. Within post-Keynesianism, however, two contrasting understandings of uncertainty and its cognate concepts have emerged over the last few decades. These are the Human Abilities/Characteristics approach and the Ergodic/Nonergodic approach, which are often portrayed as epistemological uncertainty and ontological uncertainty respectively. According to the former, uncertainty is ultimately grounded on certain inescapable limitations in human knowledge and abilities to acquire knowledge, regardless of the ontology of the domain being investigated. According to the latter, uncertainty is ultimately grounded on the ontology of the domain being investigated, regardless of any limitations in human knowledge or ability. This chapter provides a detailed dissection and explanation of the core constituents of the two approaches, and concludes by summarizing their differences and posing some questions for reflection.
O'Donnell, R. 2012, 'Keynes's treatise on probability' in King, J.E. (ed), The Elgar Companion to Post Keynesian Economics, Edward Elgar, UK, pp. 360-366.
O'Donnell, R. 2010, 'Economic pluralism and skill formation: Adding value to students, economies, and societies' in Garnett, R., Olsen, E.K. & Starr, M. (eds), Economic Pluralism, Routledge, US, pp. 262-277.
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O'Donnell, R. 2008, 'Keynes, John Maynard' in New Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
O'Donnell, R. 2003, 'Treatise on probability' in The Elgar Companion To Post Keynesian Economics, pp. 359-365.
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O'Donnell, R. 2003, 'The thick and the thin of controversy' in The Philosophy of Keynes's Economics: Probability, Uncertainty and Convention, pp. 82-96.
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O'Donnell, R. 2008, 'Some issues relating to the teaching of opportunity cost', Enhancing the Effectiveness of Learning and Teaching in Economics: Proceedings of the 13th Australasian Teaching Economics Conference, 13th Australasian Teaching Economics Conference, Lambert Academic Publishing, Sydney, Australia, pp. 94-100.
O'Donnell, R. 2009, 'Threshold concepts and their relevance to economics', Australian Conference of Economists 2009, Adelaide, Australia.
O'Donnell, R. 2009, 'The concept of opportunity cost: Is it simple, fundamental or necessary?', Annual Conference of the Multinational Finance Society, Vancouver, Canada.
O'Donnell, R. 2009, 'Threshold concepts and their relevance to economics', 14th Annual Australasian Teaching Economics Conference, Brisbane, Australia.
O'Donnell, R. 2009, 'Fostering creativity and innovation in tertiary students', Asia Pacific Symposium on Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Sydney, Australia.
O'Donnell, R. 2009, 'Solving the creativity and innovation problem in higher education', International Centre for Innovation in Education Conference, Ulm, Germany.

Journal articles

O'Donnell, R. 2014, 'A critique of the ergodic/nonergodic approach to uncertainty', Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 187-209.
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Although uncertainty is widely viewed as an essential element of post Keynesianism, two contrasting perspectives on its nature and foundations compete for attention-the ontologically oriented ergodic/nonergodic (ENE) approach, and the epistemologically oriented human abilities and characteristics (HAC) approach. Since little or no direct debate has previously occurred between the two perspectives, this paper presents an extended critique of the ENE approach in both general and Keynes-specific terms. The critique argues, inter alia, that the ENE approach is untenable because it makes it impossible for agents to obtain knowledge of the relevant state of reality; it employs two conflicting definitions of ergodicity; its accounts of agent learning are incoherent or internally inconsistent; it commits the excluded middle fallacy; its view of causality is oversimplified; and its treatment of Keynes's philosophical work is inaccurate and tendentious. General aspects of the critique also apply to other schools employing the ENE approach.
O'Donnell, R. 2012, 'A macroeconomics forecasting game: Description and evaluation', Australasian Journal of Economics Education, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 21-39.
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macroeconomic games, large class learning, forecasting and risk.
O'Donnell, R. 2011, 'Keynes and the general theory after seventy-five years', History of Economics Review, vol. Summer, no. 54.
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On the 75Th anniversary of the publication of The General Theory, this paper explores the framework of Keynes's thought as a whole, his development of a realistic and insightful analysis of a monetary production economy, and the practical conclusions that these entail. Ranging across philosophy, economics and politics, it comments on the approach needed to understand his distinctive thinking, some of the central elements of his analytical framework, the fate of the Keynesian revolution, his emphasis on reason and humanity, and his hope that individual greed and acquisition might be replaced in the future by non-economic, goodnessenhancing activities. The paper also argues that it is not sufficient to read The General Theory in isolation as a self-contained work if one wants to understand its pioneering nature fully. Three questions are posed by way of conclusion-why is Keynes so different from, more difficult to understand, and yet more appealing than, many modem economists?
O'Donnell, R. 2010, 'A Mini-Symposium on Colander and McGoldrick's Teagle Discussion: Editor's Introduction', Australian Journal of Economics Education, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 36-39.
O'Donnell, R. 2009, 'The permanent need for political economy', Agenda, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 89-99.
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My purpose here is to offer, in hindsight, an assessment of the significance of the dispute in terms of its two underlying issues the nature of economics and the role of university ideals. I write as someone who was a student activist, both inside and outside official channels, from 1974 to 1977 during the first major phase of the dispute, who graduated with degrees in economics (BEc) and philosophy (BA) and who, supported by scholarships from Sydney University, took a doctorate in Economics at Cambridge prior to returning to Australia and an academic career.
O'Donnell, R. 2009, 'The concept of opportunity cost: Is it simple, fundamental or necessary?', Australasian Journal of Economics Education, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 21-37.
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Surveys by Ferraro and Taylor (2005) point to abysmal understandings of the concept of opportunity cost by US undergraduates, graduates and faculty, and raise important pedagogical and conceptual issues. One implication is that the concept is poorly taught in textbooks and classrooms, from which it follows that remedies are needed. Three further implications strongly influence the nature and extent of these remedies. These are that opportunity cost is not a simple concept but a difficult one, that it is not a fundamental economic concept but a subordinate one, and that graduates do not require a good understanding of the concept for successful careers as economists. This paper presents logical arguments supporting these propositions, and discusses their bearing on general strategies for dealing with the pedagogical problem.
O'Donnell, R. 2006, 'Keynes's principles of writing (innovative) economics', The Economic Record, vol. 82, no. 259, pp. 396-407.
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This paper investigates Keyness writings in the 1920s and 30s to uncover his views on the writing of economics, especially the writing of innovative or path-breaking works. His ideas were mainly presented in comments on other economists (particularly Marshall, Jevons and Malthus), and in reflections on his own experiences (chiefly in his 1932-33 lectures and a 1934 draft preface to the General Theory). These ideas are converted into five underlying principles, the implications of which are discussed in terms of their impact on the clarity and interpretation of his writings and of their relevance to all writings in economics
O'Donnell, R. 1999, 'The genesis of the only diagram in the general theory', Journal of the History of Economic Thought, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 27-37.
O'Donnell, R. 1999, 'On Reading and Arguing: A Reply to Ahiakpor', Journal of the History of Economic Thought, vol. 21, no. 01, pp. 43-43.
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O'Donnell, R. 1998, 'Mixed Goods and Social Reform', Cahiers d'économie politique, vol. 30, no. 1, pp. 167-185.
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O'Donnell, R. 1996, 'John Maynard Keynes: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow', History of Economic Review, vol. 25, pp. 1-13.
O'Donnell, R. 1990, 'Keynes on mathematics: Philosophical foundations and economic applications', Cambridge Journal of Economics, vol. 14, no. 1-2, pp. 29-47.
O apos donnell, R.M. 1990, 'Keynes on mathematics: Philosophical foundations and economic applications', Cambridge Journal of Economics, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 29-47.
O apos donnell, R. 1990, 'The epistemology of J. M. Keynes', British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, vol. 41, no. 3, pp. 333-350.
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This paper has two objectives, neither previously attempted in the published literature-first, to outline J. M. Keynes's theory of knowledge in some detail, and, secondly, to justify the contention that his epistemology is a variety of rationalism, and not, as many have asserted, a form of empiricism. Keynes's attitude to empirical data is also analysed as well as his views on prediction and theory choice. © 1990 Oxford University Press.


O'Donnell, R. 2010, 'Opportunities Lost and Regained in the Land of Opportunity Cost'.
The economics profession, as a whole, has a gravely confused understanding of opportunity cost, a concept widely regarded as one of the most fundamental ideas of economics. The muddle arises because of the existence of two contrary conceptions of opportunity cost which are presumed to be the same but only one of which is correct. Conceptually, the problem is serious because, while the correct idea leads to analytical coherence, the incorrect one generates incoherence and chaos. The incorrect definition, which is arguably more prevalent, introduces mistakes into the treatment of opportunity cost in top-selling mainstream texts used in the US and in their offshoots in other countries. Fortunately, the problem can be eliminated by some judicious reconstruction. Full coherence can be restored to the conceptual framework by the retention of the term opportunity cost for the referent of the correct definition, and the introduction of a new term, trade-off cost, for the referent of the incorrect definition. The argument is based on a survey of the treatment of opportunity cost and its applications in well-known US texts written by prominent economists and experienced economics educators – thirteen introductory texts, five intermediate texts, four graduate texts and one applied research work. In those texts that mention opportunity cost, none work solely with the correct definition, a majority deploy both definitions simultaneously as if they were identical, and a minority are based entirely on the incorrect definition. The result is that millions of economics students and graduates world-wide are being given confused and deficient understandings of opportunity cost.
O'Donnell, R. 2004, 'Keynes as a writer: Three case studies', pp. 180-197.
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O'Donnell, R., 'What Kind of Economics Graduates Do We Want? A Constructive Critique of Hansen's Proficiencies Approach'.
In answer to the long-standing question, what kinds of knowledge and skills should economics majors master, Lee Hansen has advocated a proficiencies approach. According to this approach, the teaching and learning of economics undergraduates should be based on the attainment of (six) specified proficiencies. He has also proposed ways in which these competencies can be demonstrated. This paper outlines Hansen's proficiency approach and subjects it to critical evaluation. It finds that much of his scheme is highly admirable and worthy of support, even if its implementation would be difficult in resource-starved educational systems. However, it also finds other parts of his scheme to be disturbing, simplistic, narrow and dangerous. These deficiencies stem primarily from highly inadequate assumptions about the nature of economics as a discipline. The challenge in making the proficiencies approach more acceptable is to retain the valuable elements while discarding the objectionable. To this end, an amended list of (nine) expected proficiencies is proposed.
O'Donnell, R., 'The Thick and the Thin of Controversy: A Critique of Bateman on Keynes'.
This paper critically analyses Bateman's interpretation of Keynes's thought as presented in his 1996 book, Keynes's Uncertain Revolution. The book has two main aims. One is to present a 'thick' history of the evolution of Keynes's thinking on probability and uncertainty, by which is meant a history that refers to both the internal and external influences on a person's ideas. According to Bateman, this is necessary because an adequate understanding Keynes's ideas on probability and uncertainty is impossible without such a history. The second aim is to advance a particular interpretation of the relationship between Keynes's philosophy and his economics. This interpretation contrasts with previous 'continuity' interpretations by arguing for the existence of major discontinuities in Keynes's philosophical thinking. The paper also comments on some of the methodological issues involved in clashes between different interpretations.
O'Donnell, R., 'Introducing Peer-Assisted Learning in First Year Accounting in Australia'.
Australian universities are giving increasing attention to peer-assisted learning (or supplemental instruction) as a means of meeting some of the demanding challenges that have arisen over the last fifteen years. At Macquarie University, Sydney, a two year (2003-04) trial has been conducted of this form of supplemental instruction in selected Accounting courses. This paper discusses the first stage of the trial in terms of its design, outcomes, benefits and costs, and lessons learned. Consistent with earlier studies, it is found that peerassisted learning is best approached as a flexible system capable of adaptation to the specificities of local teaching and learning environments.