Greg Mankiw doubts this implication of Bauman's findings. Mankiw basically takes issue with the following quote from Bauman's article:
You may question whether these groups actually serve the common good, but that’s mostly beside the point. Regardless of the groups’ actual social value, a purely self-interested individual would choose to free-ride rather than contribute; after all, a single $3 donation is not going to make a noticeable difference in tuition rates.Mankiw, in criticizing this passage, makes a fair point: the supposedly positive externalities of any public good do need to be carefully examined and analyzed, even for small values of contribution, and someone with a social science background, particularly economics, may be well-equipped to do so. They might be less willing to dole out cash to a random charity, but their education is put to use in other ways that are beneficial to society.
While Mankiw may have a point, we at Anti-Mankiw strongly disagree that Bauman's essential claim that economics is ideological evaporates in the face of Mankiw's criticism. In fact, published studies have been done on surveys of students who have successfully completed an introductory course to economics in which the mainstream view is presented without any critical perspective, and these studies offer an interesting take on how ideology matters in the classroom.
The findings? The majority of students 6-12 months after taking such a course recall most quickly the normative aspects of the course but are relatively less able to solve simple problems related to these ideas (to see how they might work or not work in practice). Ideas like "taxes are bad for efficiency, though not for equity", and "prices not set by the free market lead to welfare losses and are therefore undesirable" are common, but give them a question to solve on calculating consumer surplus, for example, and they cannot deliver. These are consistent with our own experiences in teaching introductory courses offering a mainstream view, and indeed, on a certain level makes sense: most cases, you may just get the main point of an argument and not necessarily the details behind the argument. But nevertheless, it's presented as an argument, and therefore not of course the only perspective!
[See Bartlett, Ferber, and Green's "Political Orientation and the Decision to Major in Economics" in International Review of Economic Education; and Faravelli's "How Context Matters" in Journal of Public Economics for two resources. These ideas were also reflected on based on a correspondent's current dissertation research which we are not allowed to cite openly.]
The lesson learned? That market-centric views and market-centric efficiency criteria are at the center of any policy evaluation of a student, leaving no room to discuss how efficiency is not a scientific concept. (See this article by Rick Wolff, entitled, "Whose Efficiency?" which does a great job of breaking down the different models. Duncan Kennedy and Frank Michelman also have a nice piece as well entitled "Are Property and Contract Efficient?".) Second, it is highly questionable whether an intro course "enlightens" the student in the way Mankiw believes it does. Admittedly, part of the problem here is with education itself -- how we train our students and so on -- but Mankiw, writer of the currently most successful textbook, is therefore part of the problem, not the solution.
It's a short step from this final point to the idea that a better economics textbook -- which either clears away the ideological content and works more like the seminar room or offers a critical approach that draws on many different worldviews (or both) -- is just on the horizon...