The Institute Blog

Stephen Marglin: Occupy Harvard, Economics and Ideology

Students staged a walkout of the intro economics class at Harvard, as a protest against the bias they perceive in the course (here is their open letter). Every other year, Harvard Professor Stephen Marglin teaches Economics: A Critical Approach (syllabus here), as an alternative intro course for Harvard freshmen. The video below shows Marglin at a teach-in, given to students at Occupy Harvard on December 7, 2011.

In his blog today, Greg Mankiw disagrees with the approach taken by Marglin: "A main disagreement I have with Steve is pedagogical. I believe his critiques of mainstream economics should be presented after students have had a standard course like ec 10. That is, I would suggest Steve aim his course at sophomores rather than freshmen."



There is no such thing as pure economic efficiency. Economics is built up on the actions of people -- let's not assume people are 100% rational or 100% efficient.

A simple example would be a discussion about the rate of change. It may be true that we want to achieve objective X, but in politics we will often take an immediate approach, perhaps due to ideology, and in so doing cause great harm in the populace.

The populace cannot shift jobs immediately. They cannot immediately reeducate themselves to adapt to change. They cannot sell their current home and find another -- choosing a good place to live in a new location in the process.

We need to get beyond the theory and also consider the well being and reality of individual actors.

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