Are We Greg Mankiw or Not?

22 Nov, 2011 at 00:04 | Posted in Economics, Education & School | 2 Comments

As I wrote about the other week (here), a walkout was staged early this month by students in the introductory economics class Ec10 at Harvard, taught by Greg Mankiw. Robin Wells comments on this cause célèbre on  INET are worth pondering on:

Is Mankiw simply the target of fuzzy-minded youth who are more intent on making a statement than engaging in reasoned inquiry? Or, is Mankiw – and much of the profession, for that matter – getting a needed reality check about the need to re-orient the way we teach economics? 

[W]hat I will say is this: something is shifting out there, and we ignore it at our peril. It would be very easy to dismiss the student walk-out as an exercise in intellectual laziness and grandstanding.  (After all, as many have pointed out, Keynesian models can’t be taught until second semester of Harvard Ec10.)  But perceptive instructors know that sometimes a stupid question is more than a stupid question.  And a really perceptive instructor will take a seemingly stupid question and turn it into the insightful question that the student should have asked. 

Right now the general public views the economics profession with a large measure of distrust and in some cases outright contempt. Students are entering the worst job market in well over a generation, without much prospect of improvement.  Many of them have seen their parents’ lives turned upside down by financial troubles.  They face being members of the first generation in American history with a lower standard of living than their parents.  Income inequality has reached levels not seen since the Gilded Age.  There are over 4 million long-term unemployed.

In this environment, instructors who lecture on the superiority of free markets without acknowledging the dysfunction in the wider economy are at risk of appearing out of touch and exacerbating antipathy towards economics.

But how does an instructor do this in an introductory economics?  I think it’s largely a matter of shifting our perspective to let go of the certainties that were part of our economic training and admit to the painful economic uncertainties that many Americans now inhabit.

Bad theories underpinning even worse policies are in dire need of healthy antidotes – so, after all, there seems to be a connection between Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Ec10 … 


  1. […] Lars Pålsson Syll citerar en Robin Wells kommentar på protesterna mot grundläggande kurs i ekonom… med Greg Mankiw ”Vi är Greg Mankiw… Eller inte?” […]

  2. […] Krugmans fru Robin Wells, som också är ekonom skriver om denna walkout. Lars Pålsson Syll citerar hennes kommentar på protesterna på Harvard mot professor Greg Mankiw ”Vi är Greg Mankiw… Eller inte?”: ”Studenter kliver in på […]

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