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No Option?

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Here’s a letter to the Los Angeles Times:

Overlook Eric Weiner’s daffy assumptions about the contents and consequences of introductory mainstream microeconomics as taught at Harvard by Greg Mankiw [2] – assumptions that reveal that Mr. Weiner knows nothing of the subject that he pans (“Economists – you say you want a revolution? [3]” April 26).  Focus instead on Mr. Weiner’s complaint that, because the “alternative” introductory economics course at Harvard taught by Stephen Marglin is offered less frequently than is Prof. Mankiw’s course, in semesters when Prof. Marglin’s course is not offered “anyone wishing to learn about alternative perspectives on these issues had no option.”

No option?

Are Harvard undergrads illiterate?  Or can they not find the Widener library?  Prof. Marglin recently wrote a book – The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community [4] – to explain his sympathetic take on “alternative” economics.  This volume is available at Widener, and it sells for $18.48 at Amazon.com.  (Or is this price too high for Harvard students?)  And can Harvard students not surf the web to find any of the many blogs [5] and other sites that criticize mainstream economics [6]?

If Harvard’s young men and women really are so intellectually inept as Mr. Weiner implicitly assumes them to be – if they learn only what they encounter in formal classroom settings in Cambridge – their protests about the contents of Prof. Mankiw’s course deserve to be dismissed as the uninformed ejaculations of mindlessness that, in fact, they are.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

I speak from experience.  During my undergraduate days in the 1970s at Nicholls State University (“Harvard on the bayou,” as we called it), every economics course I took was solidly mainstream.  Yet I had no difficulty whatsoever learning of, and learning, alternatives to mainstream economic thought.  In my case, those alternatives were Austrian economics and American institutionalism.  (The former impressed me greatly; the latter much less so.)  And although I was at a school far less well stocked with intellectual materials than is Harvard – and although I was an undergrad during a time long before the likes of the Internet, Google, Amazon, FedEx, JSTOR, YouTube, and blogs made access to ‘alternative’ materials widespread and inexpensive – I somehow managed, with no difficulty, to expose myself to schools of thought that were quite at odds with what I was taught in my formal classes.  Surely the typical Harvard student is at least as competent as me.