Tuesday, February 28, 2012

we know what we're protesting

This Crimson article by Harvard undergraduates Rachel Sandalow-Ash and Gabriel H. Bayard from November 2011, addressing the fundamental issues underlying the Occupy Ec 10 movement, did not get nearly the amount of attention that it deserved. Published about a week after the walkout on Mankiw's class, very few sources on the walkout linked to it, instead choosing to focus on the open letter and Crimson editorial(s), which were good, but not very carefully articulated.

We think the exclusion of the Bayard-Sandalow-Ash piece is very unfortunate. The articles which Greg Mankiw chose to cite in this New York Times article "Know What You're Protesting" did not accurately portray the types of issues that most people who chose to walk out have with his course. It would have done more for discourse around the issue if Mankiw had actually spent time dealing with the substantive attacks, instead of largely arguing past the protesters.

For example, Mankiw chose to concentrate his Times article on the argument that economics is mostly a tool, not an ideology. In other words, Mankiw sees the standard introductory economics curriculum as introducing the student to a scientific framework in which students can approach any kind of problem related to public policy or current events. This is a very familiar argument to those of us who have taken an economics course or two -- the idea that we're equipping ourselves with tools to go out and change the world. Too bad those tools are stained with ideology. Let us explain

The issue which Sandalow-Ash and Bayard rightly point out is that the frameworks Mankiw presents are themselves value-laden and politically motivated. So while the efficiency-equity tradeoff seems to offer an analytical framework in which government intervention can be "objectively debated", underlying the framework is a market-centered approach that fails to point out how a more equal society, through promoting stability and long-run health, can help to promote efficiency. And though Mankiw goes to some length to present a consensus among mainstream economists about core issues such as the adverse effects of minimum wages and free trade in his book, both historical experience and a growing literature on these topics have already successfully taken on seemingly-unobjectionable tenets of neoclassical theory.

Overall, we strongly suggest you take a look at the piece by these two very intelligent and socially conscious Harvard students. This is where the Occupy movement's critique is truly located.

1 comment:

  1. It is a historical fact that higher equality creates greater efficiency.

    This is, in classical economic theory, due to to the inefficiencies created by poor people being wealth-limited in their choices of what to purchase, and therefore purchasing goods which are less efficient choices over the long run!

    Raising the minimum income of the poorest must therefore be job one, *even in an efficiency framework*. Of curse Mankiw doesn't want to admit this, because he's playing for Team Republican.