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Economists -- you say you want a revolution?

April 26, 2012|By Eric J. Weiner
  • Every other year, Harvard offers two introductory economics courses. One class is taught by N. Gregory Mankiw, who was the subject of a student walkout. The other, called "Economics: A Critical Approach," is taught by professor Stephen Marglin.
Every other year, Harvard offers two introductory economics courses.… (Los Angeles Times )

It seems that some people never fail to get worked up at the sight of young people standing up to an entrenched power. That’s the only way I can explain the vehement reaction to my recent Op-Ed article, "Not their fathers' economics," about the budding movement against orthodox economics among students from around the world.

The general dismissive attitude seems to be that these students have no real right to speak their minds because they’re so young that they haven’t had a chance to be fully informed. Another, less politic way of delivering the message would be, "Shut up freshmen and listen to what you're told."

This line of thinking was most aptly summed up in a comment by “Sneezer142” and a follow-up comment by "hisfrogness."

Sneezer142 at 8:13 AM April 12, 2012

Shouldn't these young militants at least take a few economic courses, and get a grounding in the basics, before they roundly reject what they're being taught in Mankiw's (or any other professor's) class? The fact that they've already made up their minds, while living in near total ignorance of the subject at hand, isn't something to be applauded. It's something to be alarmed about. It's a disturbing reflection of an arrogant and willful cluelessness that we saw manifest in the Occupy Movement -- which may be the first protest movement in American history made up of civic illiterates without a coherent message or cause. What these students are rejecting isn't one school of economics, since they don't know one school from another at this point. They're protesting the fact that this professor has links to a former President who the current President (rather than taking responsibility and ownership) is blaming for all the country's ills. They will tolerate no real diversity of thought or opinion at Harvard, which isn't anything new. They want to be spoon-fed ideas that conform to their left-wing prejudices, which they pick up by watching Jon Stewart and bathing in the liberal zeitgeist of our brain-dead popular culture. Nothing wrong with a little rejection and rebellion, but why not first take the time to know a little more about what you're rebelling against and rejecting?

hisfrogness at 11:06 AM April 12, 2012

Bravo Sneezer! I couldn't have said it better myself.

At some point these kids are going to hit an [ideological] wall; humans operate under the laws of free will. [Everything] on this earth competes for resources. To be alive in this universe means that you will have to compete with others.

There is no idea or ideal that will ever change this and when attempts are made to do so it invariably leads to the need to change humans.

The answers they seek lie nowhere near the field of economics.

First, there are a few things to understand about the context of the student walkout at Harvard I described at the start of my piece. Every other year, Harvard offers two introductory economics courses. One class is taught by N. Gregory Mankiw, who was the subject of the walkout. The other, called “Economics: A Critical Approach,” is taught by professor Stephen Marglin. But Marglin’s class is only available every other year. This was a year when students were not given a choice of introductory economics classes. So anyone wishing to learn about alternative perspectives on these issues had no option.

It’s also worth noting that Marglin’s class is offered specifically as an alternative to the orthodox school of economics that Mankiw embodies. Indeed, Mankiw has criticized Marglin’s class precisely because it criticizes the ideas he teaches. "A main disagreement I have with Steve is pedagogical," Mankiw wrote in his blog on Dec. 10. "I believe his critiques of mainstream economics should be presented after students have had a standard course like ec 10."

Of course, this raises the question, is EC 10 a standard introductory course? Mankiw’s economic ideas are very much part of the mainstream political economy that has dominated American economic thinking for decades -- from the Reagan and Bush administrations, to the Clinton administration, to the second Bush administration, to the Obama administration. In other words, Mankiw’s ideas are not a political issue since the leaderships of both parties have pursued policies that are very similar to those that he espouses.

But his ideas also are at the heart of the economic structure we have today, which has resulted in disastrous financial bubbles that occur with increasing frequency, unprecedented inequality both in the U.S. and around the world, and extreme environmental degradation.

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