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The Occupy Wall Street movement has landed at Harvard University, where some 70 students walked out of an introductory economics class last week to protest what they saw as biased teachings.
The students explained their walkout in an open letter to professor Greg Mankiw posted on the website of the Harvard Political Review. "Today, we are walking out of your class, Economics 10, in order to express our discontent with the bias inherent in this introductory economics course," they wrote. "We are deeply concerned about the way that this bias affects students, the University, and our greater society."
NPR’s Morning Edition covered the kerfuffle, suggesting that the students objected to the class partly because of Mankiw’s résumé. He served as an adviser to President George W. Bush and is now advising the campaign of Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney. He has also criticized the Occupy Wall Street protests and warned against the "politics of envy."
Ironically, Mankiw said he was lecturing on income inequality on the day the students walked out.
Students who participated in the walkout wrote in the open letter that they had hoped to be presented with a balanced view of economics in a required introductory course. "Instead, we found a course that espouses a specific—and limited—view of economics that we believe perpetuates problematic and inefficient systems of economic inequality in our society today. There is no justification for presenting Adam Smith’s economic theories as more fundamental or basic than, for example, Keynesian theory."
A former student of Mankiw’s jumped to his defense, pointing out that the students offered little explanation of what they found "biased" in the course, other than the reference to Smith and Keynes. The student, named Jeremy Patashnik, wrote:
Incidentally, the authors of this letter are in for a treat: there’s plenty of Keynesian theory to come in the second semester of Ec 10. In fact, Mankiw is a great Keynes admirer, and once wrote, “If you were going to turn to only one economist to understand the problems facing the economy, there’s little doubt that that economist would be John Maynard Keynes.” The only reason that these students have not yet studied the father of modern macroeconomics in Ec 10, of course, is that the first semester of the class is devoted to microeconomics.
Asked on NPR to elaborate on his views about economic inequality, Mankiw said there’s no question it has been on the rise for the past 70 years. "I think it’s primarily being driven by a variety of forces in the economy including, for example, technology," he said. Asked whether he thought it was a problem that government needs to address, Mankiw said it depends on one’s political philosophy. "I think the liberal position is more to try to address the outcomes through a progressive income tax, and I think the conservative point of view is to try to address the causes. One of the causes is the educational system."