Rod O'Donnell joined UTS in 2008 as Professor of Economics. Formerly Professor of Economics at Macquarie University (1995-2007), he has an outstanding reputation in research and teaching. He describes himself as a philosophical or conceptual economist, in the sense that conceptual matters are always fundamental, prior to theorisation, and determine the applicability of mathematical tools. This perspective has emerged from his educational formation in engineering, philosophy and economics. His research interests are broad and have generated journal papers, book chapters and books over a number of fields, but are now primarily focused on the thought of JM Keynes in all areas, pluralist economics, Post Keynesian economics, and the foundations of economic reasoning. His major project is the preparation of a large multi-volume edition of Keynes's remaining significant unpublished writings. In teaching, he has forged innovative methods for the development of rich sets of graduate attributes, and holds five teaching awards (1997-2013), including a 2013 Excellence in University Teaching Award from the Australian Government.
PROFESSOR O'DONNELL'S CV, RESEARCH INTERESTS AND PUBLICATIONS ARE available here.
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.
1. Major Edition of Keynes’s Writings
To publish all the remaining significant unpublished writings of J.M. Keynes in all areas of his thought (approximately 25 vols).
J.M. Keynes’s theory and methodology; modern interpretations of Keynes’s economics; Post Keynesian economics
3. Uncertainty and Risk
Orthodox and heterodox treatments (especially Keynes), and their implications for economic theory and policy. The ergodic/nonergodic hypothesis, and the human abilities and characteristics approach.
4. Contemporary Pluralist Economics
All major schools of contemporary economic thought, including Neoclassical, Post Keynesian, Institutionalist, Ecological, Austrian, Marxist, Behavioural and Feminist Economics.
The philosophical foundations of economic thought; philosophies of probability and their implications for economics; uses and abuses of formalism in economics.
6. History of Economic Thought
Uncertainty and risk; macroeconomics; J.M. Keynes; F.H. Knight; R.F. Harrod.
Opportunity cost and its role in value theory.
8. Teaching economics
Fostering rich graduate attributes with pluralist curricula and activity-based pedagogy; contemporary methods of teaching economics (weaknesses and strengths); threshold concepts.
Economics for Business; Macroeconomics: Theory and Applications; Alternative Perspectives in Contemporary Economics..
Copyright © 2019 Millennium Economics Ltd. In relation to Keynes's thought on general theorising, consumption theory and institutions, this paper closely examines Geoff Hodgson's views as set out in his magisterial work, How Economics Forgot History. While in full agreement with its advocacy of the institutionalist programme, it finds that Keynes's position has been misunderstood in all three areas, and that deep compatibilities exist between the General Theory and institutionalist analysis. Using all his available writings, it is argued that Keynes's conception of a general theory is very different from that underpinning neoclassical economics so that criticisms of the latter are irrelevant to the former, that Keynes's 'fundamental psychological law' was never advanced as a universal law applicable to all economies, and that Keynes expressly analysed a historically specific economic institution and its assemblage of sub-institutions. Keynes is an ally, not an enemy, of institutionalism in pursuing better economic theory.
O'Donnell, R 2019, 'On the logical properties of Keynes's theorising, and different approaches to the Keynes-institutionalism nexus', Journal of Institutional Economics, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 741-747.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Copyright © 2019 Millennium Economics Ltd. This paper replies to Hodgson (2019), which responds to my analysis and critique in O'Donnell (2018). My present aim is clarification of our respective positions, our agreements and disagreements, and their underlying causes. To this end, I elaborate further on the logic underpinning my initial paper, comment on several (not all) key points in Hodgson's response, and conclude with the matter of our different agendas. Space limitations preclude fuller discussion and encourage concise expression.
O’Donnell, R & Rogers, C 2017, 'Some fundamental differences between IYLM and ISLM: reply to Fuller', Cambridge Journal of Economics, vol. 41, no. 6, pp. 1773-1776.View/Download from: Publisher's site
O’Donnell, R 2016, 'Second contribution to the ENE critique: Reply to Davidson, part 1', Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 17-43.View/Download from: Publisher's site
On first encounter, the ergodic/nonergodic (ENE) approach
has apparent plausibility. Although concerned by some of its
problems for many years, it was only after more concentrated
reflection on both its parts and their combinations that I became
aware of its manifold deficiencies, some of which I outlined in my
previous critique (O’Donnell, 2014). In this paper, facilitated by
Davidson’s (2015b) rejoinder, these criticisms are deepened,
broadened, and strengthened. Because the debate deals with
fundamental matters in several disciplines, a considerable
amount of investigation, unpacking, and logical dissection is
required to clarify the argumentation beneath the compressed
and seemingly smooth surface of the ENE position. For this
reason, my reply is divided into two parts. This contribution
primarily examines the central role of framing in ENE arguments,
and clarifies the various misunderstandings and misrepresentations
to which it leads. The subsequent contribution provides
more detailed discussion of mathematical, stochastic, and
O'Donnell, R 2016, 'Third contribution to the ergodic/nonergodic critique: Reply to Davidson, part 2', Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 145-171.View/Download from: Publisher's site
© 2016, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. This second part of my reply to Davidson (2015) discusses mathematical and statistical matters using a simple model of ergodicity whose properties do not match many of those asserted by ENE. It responds to Davidson's counterarguments against pre-infinity indeterminacy, examines the works of Billingsley, Uffink, and Malinvaud as cited by Davidson, and then turns to important methodological issues. As in Part 1 of my reply, Davidson's rejoinder helps make the critique stronger, deeper, and more relevant.
© The Author 2014. The ISLM model, introduced in 1936-37 to provide interpretations of Keynes's General Theory, subsequently emerged in its Hicks-Hansen form as the workhorse and 'trained intuition' of post-war macroeconomists. However, ISLM is an essentially orthodox model based on neoclassical foundations and fails completely as an adequate representation of central elements of Keynes's macroeconomic thought. This article proposes IYLM as a replacement for ISLM, the new model being General Theory-compatible in that it is grounded only on key propositions in that work. Its purpose is to contribute, within the constraints of a two-market framework, to the resuscitation of Keynes's macroeconomics as an alternative to the inadequacies of much current macroeconomics. The first part of the article derives the model and argues that those sympathetic to The General Theory can accept the IYLM framework whilst simultaneously rejecting ISLM. The second part shows that Hicks-Hansen ISLM is based on an income-augmented form of orthodox loanable funds theory.
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.
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.
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 concept of opportunity cost: Is it simple, fundamental or necessary?', Australasian Journal of Economics Education, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 21-37.
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 2009, 'The permanent need for political economy', Agenda, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 89-99.
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.
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
To declare my case “not proven” is irrelevant. I agree my case is not proven, but all other cases on this topic, including Ahiakpor's, are equally unproven. Arguing about proof here is a waste of time. We simply do not have enough data for deductive certainty or even for the less stringent criterion of “proof beyond reasonable doubt.” The written record is not conclusive and the protagonists are dead. What is not a waste of time, however, is discussing probabilistic inferences from incomplete evidence.
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 1996, 'John Maynard Keynes: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow', History of Economic Review, vol. 25, pp. 1-13.
O'Donnell, R 1990, 'An overview of probability, expectations, uncertainty and rationality in Keynes's conceptual framework', Review of Political Economy, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 253-266.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Keynes's writings on the cognate topics of probability, expectations, uncertainty and rationality exhibit considerable complexity. This paper seeks to provide a clarifying overview of his position on these topics, both in his main philosophical work, The treatise on probability, and his main economic work, The general theory. It is argued that the most useful approach for understanding the deeper structure of Keynes's thought in each work is by means of a two-dimensional, two-domain analysis. Such an analysis helps demonstrate some of the ways in which the conceptual framework of The treatise on probability provides an essential part of the philosophical foundations of The general theory, while at the same time recognizing some of the key differences between the two works. It also illuminates Keynes's non-neoclassical theorization of rationality, and his path-breaking attempt to develop a theory of rationality under irreducible uncertainty. © 1990, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. All rights reserved.
O'Donnell, R 1990, 'Keynes on mathematics: Philosophical foundations and economic applications', Cambridge Journal of Economics, vol. 14, no. 1-2, pp. 29-47.
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, RM 1990, 'Keynes on mathematics: Philosophical foundations and economic applications', Cambridge Journal of Economics, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 29-47.
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.View/Download from: Publisher's site
O'Donnell, R 2013, 'Two Post-Keynesian approaches to uncertainty and irreducible uncertainty' in Harcourt, GC & Kriesler, P (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Post-Keynesian Economics, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, pp. 124-142.View/Download from: Publisher's site
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, JE (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, EK & Starr, M (eds), Economic Pluralism, Routledge, US, pp. 262-277.
O'Donnell, R 2008, 'Keynes, John Maynard' in New Dictionary of Scientific Biography, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
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, '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.
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, 'Threshold concepts and their relevance to economics', Australian Conference of Economists 2009, Adelaide, Australia.
O'Donnell, R 2010, 'A Critique of the Threshold Concept Hypothesis and an Application in Economics'.
In exploring the learning experiences of students, some educationalists have advanced the 'threshold concept hypothesis' according to which certain concepts in various disciplines act as thresholds. Such concepts need to be
mastered before further progress can be made in a discipline - they act like portals or entrances to be traversed before students can think like practitioners of that discipline. In economics, the concept of opportunity cost is often
advanced as a prime example of a threshold concept. This paper subjects the threshold concept hypothesis to critical scrutiny on logical and methodological grounds, and then investigates its applicability to the economic concept of
opportunity cost. The main conclusions are that the hypothesis has deep-seated conceptual problems, that it is subject to disturbingly elastic interpretation, that its claim to be an improvement over existing approaches is highly
questionable, that some of its educational and social consequences are undesirable and that, in economics, the construal of opportunity cost as a threshold concept is unsustainable.
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, '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.
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, '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.