Paul Lachine

Occupy the Classroom?

Early last month, a group of students staged a walkout in Harvard’s popular introductory economics course. The problem is that, while economists know that they must carefully hedge their assertions when talking to each other, they feel no such compunction when addressing the public – or newcomers to the discipline.

CAMBRIDGE – Early last month, a group of students staged a walkout in Harvard’s popular introductory economics course, Economics 10, taught by my colleague Greg Mankiw. Their complaint: the course propagates conservative ideology in the guise of economic science and helps perpetuate social inequality.

The students were part of a growing chorus of protest against modern economics as it is taught in the world’s leading academic institutions. Economics has always had its critics, of course, but the financial crisis and its aftermath have given them fresh ammunition, seeming to validate long-standing charges against the profession’s unrealistic assumptions, reification of markets, and disregard for social concerns.

Mankiw, for his part, found the protesting students “poorly informed.” Economics does not have an ideology, he retorted. Quoting John Maynard Keynes, he pointed out that economics is a method that helps people to think straight and reach the correct answers, with no foreordained policy conclusions.

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