Home > economics profession, students > “This is why we are Anti-Mankiw”

“This is why we are Anti-Mankiw”

The following is from Harvard students’ http://anti-mankiw.blogspot.com

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.

  1. Ken Zimmerman
    November 14, 2011 at 11:39 am

    The problem is that this position is it’s just as dogmatic as that of Mankiw. The so-called “self-interested agent who ‘faces tradeoffs’ and ‘responds to economic incentives” does indeed exist and operates in the world. Ignoring it means we miss aspects of why and how decisions and actions get done. But at the same time it’s not the only and frequently not even an important aspect of the arrangements of economic and noneconomic decisions and actions. Rather than taking either dogmatic position instead we should look at the actual arrangements that flow from interactions of actors to inform and explain what they do and why and how they do it. Enough with the imperialism of the economist and social scientist.

    • merijnknibbe
      November 14, 2011 at 12:29 pm


      nowadays this “self-interested agent” is the “representative consumer”. The whole sector households is modelled as if it was one self interested ‘he-she’.

      What’s wrong with that? As there exists only one person, there is also only one job. Rising unemployment (i.e. a lot of people who loose their entire job) is modelled as if the ‘he-she’ is going to work a little less – which is fundamentally different from a society where some people keep their entire job and some people loose their entire job. And as it is dogma that all decisions are rational and show utility maximising behavior literally from here till eternity while these choises are based upon perfect knowledge, this change in hours is supposed to be an increase in leasure. The he-she is not fired, the he-she chooses to be unemployed.

      At the same time, the he-she is supposed to optimize social utility, a variable which is inconsistent (Arrow paradox), which never has been observed (not even indirectly), let alone estimated.

      If this kind of thinking was scientific you would be right. But a line of reasoning which, among other things, consciously defines away involuntary unemployment and which uses a empirically non-existing and logically inconsistent variable as its core concept is beyond redemption. Scrap the crap.

    • arekexcelsior
      February 6, 2016 at 12:49 am

      The difference is that it’s not PRETENDING to be different. Mankiw’s problem, and the problem of most of his colleagues, is that they are PRETENDING that statements that they are making that are value statements in disguise or are absolutely not established fact aren’t just true, but are actually sacrosanct principles.

  2. November 14, 2011 at 11:46 am

    I was surprised that my comment was censored from this forum, it was a summary of an article from “Science” on this exact subject.

  3. Roy Rotheim
    November 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    You may want to consult a piece a did a few years back that tries to zero in on the devices used in teaching Economics that ‘force’ us to see what it wants us to see (choice, individualism, freedom, etc) and to obliterate from our perceptual field anything that it does not want us to see (power, distribution, etc). Roy Rotheim ‘Persuasive Devices,’ Cambridge Journal of Economics, July 2006.

  4. November 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    When very instructive, real asset price histories such as those linked to here
    “Condemn venal journalism for severely fooling the people” at
    are kept very little apparent, the economics profession demonstrates the big con.

  5. Dave Taylor
    November 15, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    “.. 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”.

    Mrs Thatcher said “There is no alternative”. Not even “True or False”. There is no such thing as Truth, only what there is [now].

    With C S Peirce as “the Father of American Philosophy”, Harvard shouldn’t have been falling for this. Re pluralism,

    “By the 1870s Peirce was calling his philosophy pragmatism, and explaining it as the theory that the meaning of an idea is the sum of its consequences, the infinite total of what the world would be like if it were true”.

    This from an article nominally about Russell Kirk, but effectively a study of where Peirce’s theme came from and how it got misrepresented.


  6. Alice
    November 16, 2011 at 8:48 am

    I rather liked the comment of another commenter here, in another thread, when he questioned the underlying assumptions

    1. Self interested, consumers may well be (a reasonable assumption)
    2. That they are “shrewd” which is implied by the assumption that all buyers have access to all information is nonsense

    The second of the two assumptions, that so much of neoclassical economics bases itself on, is just patently ridiculous. All buyers do not have access to all information and insider trading and elite inside knowledge of markets is alive and well and enables the knowledgeable to gain disproportionately at other’s expense.

    But I guess if we tell the lie often enough all (who dont have access to perfect information) will be convinced the unfettered market offers a level playing field. Yeah right.

    • November 16, 2011 at 5:49 pm

      Alice, Supporting your Comment #7, and from a Ph.D. Chemistry background, I offer that the near absence of very instructive, real asset price histories, e.g.
      from apparence to the people dictates mainstream/near-ubiquitous villainy of the relevant professions. Elaboration here:

      • Alice
        November 17, 2011 at 12:17 am

        Schiller makes sense when he suggests we can index the tax scales to some measure of inequality. Inequality is the problem (that and joblessness). We put all faith in the central banks ability to link interest rates to inflation – then why not the tax scales to a measure of inequality with the clear mandate to do something to reduce it.

      • Dave Taylor
        November 17, 2011 at 9:05 am

        Beautifully put, Alice. That’s another one to throw at my MP!

  7. November 16, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Neoclassical economic theory is in a monopoly position at university departments of economics globally. Monopolies are normally questioned also in neoclassical economics but the fact that neoclassical theory is specific not only in scientific terms but also as ideology adds to the problems of relying exclusively on one kind of supply. Emphasis on self-interest and on the monetary dimension exemplify such ideological features. Only pluralism is acceptable in a democratic society. A social science, such as economics, has to to some extent reflect the ideological orientations in a particula society.
    My second argument for questioning introductory texts such as Mankiw’s is that it is unrealistic to expect one economic theory to be the best for all purposes. Neoclassical economics is very much connected with economic growth in GDP-terms and monetary profits. But today sustainable development is the main challlenge at least from a European vantage point. It can finally be observed that ‘democracy’ and ‘sustainable development’ are missing in the subject index of Mankiw’s book.
    Peter Söderbaum
    Professor emeritus, ecological economics
    Mälardalen University, Västerås, Sweden

  8. November 17, 2011 at 8:04 am

    Whether Professor Mankiw is politically biased is irrelevant. The class and textbook is about Economics. Professor Mankiw presents many of the basic ideas of conventional Economics, but the textbook makes no pretense about being comprehensive or even correct. In fact, I disagree with a couple of his Ten Principles as totally wrong, but I still read and use the textbook. Much of what you learn in college you will discover later in life is incorrect. It doesn’t matter! You are never required to belief what you read. Professor Mankiw only wants you to be exposed to the common concepts of Economics.

    Finally, I strongly object to politics entering the study of Economics. As you grow older and meet politicians personally you find they are generally closer to incompetent than you might imagine. In fact, many should be football coaches, aluminum siding salesman, psychic healers or lawyers. If you are so naive as to think politicians are worth studying you have been totally brainwashed by 12 years of public school indoctrination. Politics is the narcissistic destination for people who can not function in the Private sector. Hollywood chooses actors for their appearance and so does the electorate. You think the pretty boys deserve a chapter in an economics text? Believe me, they don’t deserve any of your time. Study people who are doing things not just posing for the media.

    Rand McGreal
    Protest March leader of the New Mob (we organized marches of 1 million people on Oct 15th and Nov. 15th 1968 in Wash DC)
    If you think you are wise enough to understand radical economics go to my Blog (randmcgreal.blogspot.com). Frankly, I don’t think you can handle it!

    • Alice
      November 18, 2011 at 9:30 am

      re your comment “Professor Mankiw only wants you to be exposed to the common concepts of Economics.”

      I think that is precisely the point of contention here. That the “common concepts” of economics are hopelessly wrong and it all comes down to faulty underlying assumptions.

      Unfortunately it alll comes down to an entirely wrong focus by mainstream (or is that minorstream economics) – that the problem is inflation which they are so busily dedicating all their defences to when like the war of the Zulus, they cant see what has in a sense outflanked them, and that is inequality and unemployment.

      Nothing quite like having the entire profession fighting front on on the plains (where the enemy isnt) when they cant even look sideways to their flanks.

      If it was an army you would call it being totally unprepared, with inadequate weapons and training and an old fashioned training manual.

      That is what is wrong with Mankiw. He is simply out of date for the economics problems we are now facing.

      • December 11, 2011 at 8:16 am

        Alice, I believe you are correct that the wrong emphasis is on inflation. The emphasis is on inflation, because belief in Supply and Demand Theory indicates adding more money will result in more inflation. Prove that is incorrect and you will provide the proof for my economic theory, N Theory. If you can develop that proof I will give you an entire chapter and co-authorship! Prove it is incorrect and the government can create “new” money and distribute it to the needy without damaging the economy. It is up to you girl!

    • arekexcelsior
      February 6, 2016 at 12:50 am

      Rand: That’s fine. But honest textbooks will tell you that they’re not “principles”. They’ll say that the world is complicated and it’s a model. It is really some very silly special pleading to say that this is acceptable. I doubt you would accept a textbook that assumed Marxist principles as absolute, unquestioned fact.

  9. Dave Taylor
    November 17, 2011 at 10:05 am

    This sounds like a counsel of despair, Rand. So who is going to lead us when you’ve had your revolution? The problem is in the Party system run by unaccountable people, not in democracy on the Christian model of a jury system. Compare Arthur and his round table to pre-Christian kings at the head of a long table, with their advisers privileged by being close to them. (That model is referred to in the New Testament).

    In the 1930’s the Christians came up with an answer to the Party system: the principle of subsidiarity, or central government being made up of representatives of local government, as is still just about evident in the structure of the EU but (certainly in Britain) got lost in the 1970’s when Parties dominating “first-past-the-post” national politics targeted local government to all but eliminate independent representation.

    • December 11, 2011 at 8:28 am

      Dave, I have never needed anyone to lead me. In my business life most committees I sat on and contributed to never really had leaders. We all participated as equals and it worked just fine. Isn’t leadership is anachronism? It is a Mommy/Daddy syndrome. Government wants you to believe you need to be led, but isn’t that concept a bit counter to the foundation of democracy. Do we really need someone to edit us? Imagine leading your own life, because that is the way it is going to come down.

      • July 17, 2012 at 12:03 pm

        Rand, on this we largely agree. The trouble is people are different – good at some things, worse at others (see St Paul at 1 Cor 10, or Jungian/Myers Briggs personality analysis), nor are we all mature and widely experienced, so in committee work we still need a chairman, and most of us are still helped by being pointed in more or less the right direction. The trouble with “them or us” Party government is that it is necessarily prejudiced one way or the other likely to ignore issues not on the Party agendas, and even timeshare will oscillate between Party lines rather than settle for local variation, and lead the immature into polarised rather than open-minded attitudes. My own vision of an alternative involves what is now government advising local and self-government rather than the other way round.

        Re Alice on inflation, it is surely not supply and demand which causes it, but supply of money in excess of REAL demand for it, largely taken up by speculators inflating property and share prices and hence total bank interest. Even with government as we know it, if the banks were nationalised the interest could replace taxation, and government could refuse to finance high speed speculation as against long term investment. With government turned into an advisory role, we could be advised to adopt a true theory of money: that it is credit which ceases to exist after it is spent, and indebts us not to investors or banks but to society, whose wealth we have partly consumed and are duty bound to help replenish. That way bank machinery and staff can administer and account for the use of legally or communally-authorised top ups (e.g. pensions, citizen’s incomes, wages and occasional prizes) and validate the need and use of loans for investment.

  10. November 23, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Hi, my name is Cindy and I’m going to Harvard University on saturday. I would like to meet one of you guys to know your opinion about the importance of critical education in the economic development.

  11. Michael Barkusky
    July 17, 2012 at 2:04 am

    I strongly recommend that all newcomers to economics read “Ecological Economics – Principles and Applications” by Herman Daly and Josh Farley in paralel with textbooks by Mankiw or any other neoclassically-minded (or even modern Keynesian) economist, Many things will become a whole lot clearer. I only discovered Daly in the 1990’s – almost 15 years after I earned a first degree in economics, but it made a huge difference.

    I wouldn’t recommend skipping the mainstream texts, but I certainly don’t think Daly and Farley should be missed either.

    Michael Barkusky
    BA (Honours) (economics) (1977)
    MBA (1982)
    CGA (1985)

    Ecological economist (and professional public accountant) in Vancouver BC, Canada.
    Secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics since 2007, but posting here in my personal capacity.

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