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What Greg Mankiw's Defenders Missed

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News Flash: Harvard Has no Access to the Web and No Libraries

Last Wednesday, Greg Mankiw blogged about the students who walked out of his Ec10 class. They have various complaints about it that you can read here.

One student, Jeremy Patashnik, gave an excellent defense of Mankiw's Ec10 class, pointing out just how broad are the perspectives that Mankiw gives. Patashnik was a little off when he wrote:

His [Mankiw's] second lecture went into more detail about what economics is and a major part of this lecture consisted of reasons why economists are not anarchists, among those reasons: dealing with poverty, market power, externalities, and regulating the business cycle.

Patashnik should have said that those are reasons why many economists are not anarchists. He made it sound as if there are no such beings as anarchist economists. That leaves out David Friedman, among others. There are anarchist economists and many of them believe that voluntary interaction would handle all those problems better than government does. So, if Greg Mankiw doesn't at least point out that there are such economists, even if he doesn't have time to deal with them, then that is a lack. But Greg might have simply said that these are his, and most of his Harvard colleagues' reasons for not being anarchists. So let's cut both Greg Mankiw and Jeremy Patashnik some slack.

Patashnik's strongest point, I thought, was this statement:

But perhaps what is most objectionable about this walkout is that students should not be opposed to being exposed to ideas that might conflict with their prior held beliefs.

Exactly. My disappointment was that he didn't go where I thought he would go next. I thought he should have gone after this statement from the protestors:
As your class does not include primary sources and rarely features articles from academic journals, we have very little access to alternative approaches to economics.

The only way they have "very little access to alternative approaches to economics" is if they don't have the web and they don't have libraries. Is Harvard lacking in those? I think not.

I became a libertarian early in my time in college. None of my social science or humanities professors was a libertarian and virtually all, with one exception, were social democrats. The exception was economist Sylvester Damus, a free-market University of Chicago grad, but the problem is that I knew him only as the faculty adviser to our libertarian club. He taught only advanced undergrad econ courses and I was a math major. In my philosophy classes, we never took readings by John Hospers or Ayn Rand. In my one economics class, Milton Friedman's name wasn't mentioned, nor Schumpeter's, nor Hayek's. Was that frustrating? Sure. But it never would have occurred to me to claim that I didn't have access to alternate viewpoints. Even in those days, the University of Winnipeg had what was, to me, a half-decent library. Protesting is one thing, but those Harvard protestors who walked out of Greg Mankiw's class have to be some of the laziest protestors around.

Update: In the comments below, commenter Joey notices something I missed. It's an even more fundamental criticism of the protestors' thinking than mine.


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COMMENTS (22 to date)
Vipul Naik writes:

Libertarians use "access" in a more literal sense than many others. For instance, when some people speak of "lack of access to contraception" they are refering to the fact that many people don't use contraception, even if it is readily and cheaply available.

Similarly for "access to jobs" or "access to healthy food" or "access to conservative viewpoints" etc.

My speculation: libertarians are likely different because they (we) believe that people are free to make choices and the fact that they haven't chosen X doesn't mean they lack access to X.

dWj writes:

I don't know that they're lazy, exactly; they just like protesting, and are willing to put forth any claim that they think will facilitate their doing so.

John Hall writes:

I fondly recall my days freshmen year scouring the Purdue libraries for Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, Hazlitt, Bastiat. I think the only libertarian books/documents I ever was required to read (beyond the Constitution) for any classes were in a political philosophy class where we read Frederick Douglass' autobiography, Locke's second treatise, and Mill On Liberty.

Anyway, almost all my econ professors came off as middle of the road, with none being anything obviously different in their teachings from mainstream (grad school was the same, with the exception of Rizzo and Harper).

By contrast, I recall my poli sci professors being far more critical of libertarian/conservative viewpoints. However, I think they were mostly fair in their treatment of students who disagreed with them. One example is my poli sci 101 prof who fell all over himself for a Scandinavian foreign exchange student who extolled the virtues of the welfare state, but when he criticized the conservatives in class I think he was mostly on point (I recall him having complaints over his treatment of the conservatives). My political philosophy prof (who had us read Locke) was about as far left as any prof I ever had (she made us write poems, the horror), but I think she was broadly fair (though I did censor myself to avoid any confrontations).

William Barghest writes:

Like all protest it is just theatre.
Do not treat the content of their words as if it was meant factually.

Kent Gatewood writes:

I think any Harvard student can attend Mankiw's lecture;(?) therefore, I'm going to guess students, not in his class, came just to walk out.

Alex J. writes:

Walkouts: "There is no justification for presenting Adam Smith’s economic theories as more fundamental or basic than, for example, Keynesian theory."

?!

Maybe they should've stayed in the class.

I'm reminded of the time I read "You won't find these ideas in a university library!" in a university library.

PrometheeFeu writes:

The only problem I ever had was with an economic professor was in my Public Economics class where the professor when he asked for the conservative position only accepted straw-men arguments marking all others as wrong. He also had the annoying habit of dismissing all non-liberal positions in class discussion. He was a relatively moderate liberal. On the other hand I took an International Economics class from a marxist who always graded fairly and encouraged people to critique the position he presented. I think some professors are pretty bad at not letting their ideology interfere but most are pretty good.

Joey writes:

So we get this:

"As Harvard undergraduates, we enrolled in Economics 10 hoping to gain a broad and introductory foundation of economic theory..."

and this:

"Instead, we found a course that espouses a specific—and limited—view of economics that we believe perpetuates problematic and inefficient systems of economic inequality in our society today."

in the same paragraph!

They acknowlege that they don't yet have even an introductory knowledge of economic theory. Yet they believe in their economic worldview strongly enough to walk out of class.

michael hamilton writes:

Articles! Ha!

One reason I studied econ as an undergraduate is because I couldn't understand anything written in academic economics articles. This makes me suspect they've never tried.

RPLong writes:

This is preposterous. From their letter:

There is no justification for presenting Adam Smith’s economic theories as more fundamental or basic than, for example, Keynesian theory.
Isn't Greg Mankiw one of the foremost and most famous New Keynesian economists in the entire world???

What is wrong with these people?

Frampton writes:

Great blog topic and thoughts by one of my favorite professors from the past, Dr. Henderson.

I agree, some onus is on the student to explore the horizons of knowledge. However, a professor should provide overviews and direction(s) for the students to seek those horizons. Isn’t that the spirit of a “liberal” education? David R. provides a great example of a student who sought knowledge outside of the classroom (himself)…but he is also an exception. After all, it was you, Dr. Henderson, that introduced me to the theories and approaches of libertarian thought. I do not think I would have pursued that knowledge without your introduction and presentation almost 17-years ago.

What is truly at issue, in this discussion, is the politicalization of academic topics. When, if ever, is there an acceptable occasion to politicize an academic topic? I would argue that it should be rare and likely unacceptable. Academes should present subjects, not positions. It is the student who consumes the subject, and through thoughtful analysis and reflection, forms a position.

I hope this helps the discussion,
Dr. J. Scott Frampton, Ph.D.

Like many other readers (and a few posters) I was shocked / amused / terrified by this statement:

"There is no justification for presenting Adam Smith’s economic theories as more fundamental or basic than, for example, Keynesian theory."

How, I wonder, will our culture recover from the widespread adoption of collectivist and statist ideas, especially among the cultural elite...?

If you think I'm over reacting, try reading the Communist Manifesto. You'll find that we've adopted it wholesale in America. Nearly every point has become mainstream policy in the U.S.

John B. writes:

I got interested in economics when I was in graduate school for Computer Science in the late 1970's (the Great Inflation was hard to ignore!).

So I went to the University Library and took out some books. And then some more books. I read the Wall St. Journal and The Atlantic. I got lots of different perspectives in a very short time.

In undergrad I'd also wandered the stacks of the libraries we had. I found Gibbon's Decline and Fall and read the first half. Among other memorable finds, I found a copy of the police report on Jack the Ripper, a set of Nazi propaganda magazines in English, Tantric sex manuals, 1812 newspapers and Sumerian dictionaries.

If you want to learn and have access to a college or university library, you can learn! Those students have no excuse.

MG writes:

"...assume the protesters believe that–given that Mankiw served as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under a Republican president–there is a conservative bias to the course..."

This is completely dispiriting. The typical university, which apparently have served recent college graduates poorly, has faculties where progressive/Democrat Party-aligned profs outnumber the "others" by anywhere between 99 to 1, to perhaps 2 to 1 (in fields like Econ), and are always a strong majority...and the protests are aimed at the token minority view?

motionview writes:

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E.M. August writes:

These kids should be happy their professor is not teaching them about *efficient* systems of income inequality. Am I right?

t-bird writes:

Scariest line in the protest letter was this one:

Harvard graduates play major roles in the financial institutions and in shaping public policy around the world.

Please don't remind us.

Mark Bahner writes:
They acknowlege that they don't yet have even an introductory knowledge of economic theory. Yet they believe in their economic worldview strongly enough to walk out of class.

I think what they might have been looking for was, "Let's see how Marx would think about this problem..."

P.S. Which can't help but remind me of that great line:

It is proof of Trotsky's farsightedness that none of his predictions has yet come true."
libfree writes:

This is funny. I didn't walk out of my sociology class in college.

fundamentalist writes:
“There are anarchist economists and many of them believe that voluntary interaction would handle all those problems better than government does.”

That may be true of the anarchist left, but it’s not true of the anarchist right, such as Rothbard and Hoppe and their followers. The Rothbardian wing of libertarianism sees the rule of law as absolutely necessary for a free society. They want privately paid judges to discover law, as they did under natural law theory, and not have legislators making up law. They want private police forces enforcing the law.

“protestors who walked out of Greg Mankiw's class have to be some of the laziest protestors around.”

I agree! Public schooling has failed these students. Freshman orientation should include a class on proper protesting and effective rioting.

Jack Davis writes:

This protest has a frightening message to me: No Republicans should be allowed to teach at any college. Mankiw's views are in the mainstream of conservative economics. He is not a far-right ideologue; he's advising Romney, not Perry or Bachmann.

If he's too biased to be allowed to teach, it's a small step to banning all right-of-center professors from campuses.

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