Students at Harvard University on Tuesday, November 1st walked out of Professor N. Gregory Mankiw's Ec 10, "Principles of Economics" course, for two main reasons.
First, to declare their solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and indeed, occupy movements currently happening all across the world.
Second, to protest the specific role played by Mankiw's course in perpetuating inequalities of wealth and power, which have plagued American (and world) capitalism for decades, if not centuries.
As the Harvard students put it in their open letter to Professor Mankiw, they are concerned with the political bias inherent in Mankiw's text, as well as how it "affects students, the University, and our greater society."
But what does it really mean to say that Mankiw, his class, and his textbook are responsible for such things?
The students state in the letter how Mankiw rarely includes a discussion of primary sources and often slants toward the classical model of political economy, expounded most famously by Adam Smith. This bias stands to the detriment of other important schools of economic thought such as Keynesianism. But the problem with his course goes a bit deeper than that. While Mankiw might argue that his New Keynesian approach to macroeconomics combines the best of both Keynesian analyses of the short run and classical views of the long run, the fact is that both Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes understood that the economic laws of the market are not immutable "principles" of society -- a point which, unfortunately, leaves Mankiw less in the camp of either of these great thinkers, and more in the realm of political ideologues and pundits.
That is to say, the self-interested agent who "faces tradeoffs" and "responds to economic incentives", as Mankiw's "10 principles of economics" assert, describes but a very small part of our daily lives. Whether you're with your friends, or at home with your family, values of cooperation, love, friendship define your day-to-day interactions. Even political power is an important concept, not given even a single mention in Mankiw's entire text! The idea that those who are wealthy might institute political power over the economic system is an idea that, indeed, goes back to Adam Smith himself. Choosing not to discuss such an economically-relevant and important topic demonstrates a severe lack of intellectual and moral integrity on the part of Mankiw and his textbook. In other words, the whole market-centric approach of Mankiw's course is fundamentally at odds with how the world works in reality.
So given that Mankiw’s course, textbook, blog, and ideology are at odds with the actual workings of social and economic life, and even help to perpetuate our societal and economic problems through producing this image of the individual as completely oriented toward market values and ideas, it’s probably time to expand the economic conversation towards more pluralism and away from hegemonic, ideologue set-in-stone “principles”. Indeed, this is why this blog is Anti Mankiw.