Do Harvard’s Econ Students Have a Point?

November 9th, 2011
in Op Ed

by Stephanie Kelton, New Economic Perspectives

Originally posted November 04, 2011

Two days ago, a group of students at Harvard University submitted a letter to their econ prof -- Greg Mankiw – just before they got up and walked out of his introductory econ class. In the letter, Professor Mankiw's students say:

If Harvard fails to equip its students with a broad and critical understanding of economics, their actions are likely to harm the global financial system. The last five years of economic turmoil have been proof enough of this.

Follow up:

These students are clearly aware of the harm that economists can do when they're employing faulty models that rest on faith-based (theoclassical) assumptions to dispense policy advice in the real world. See, for example:


The students who drafted this letter understand that many of their cohorts will go on to hold influential positions as a policy advisors, and they're asking for the kind of training that will help them avoid these kinds of harmful errors.

The global financial crisis -- which almost no mainstream economist was able to predict -- dealt an embarrassing blow to the profession. It also exposed the incestuous and unethical relationship that exists between the corporate world and some of our most noted academics. See, for example:


What about Professor Mankiw? Let me just quote from something he wrote in 1993:

[I]t would be irrational for operators of the savings and loans not to loot .... an owner of a savings and loan who is taking excess risks, hoping that they pay off and make him rich. It is only prudent for him to loot as much as he can, because he knows that his gambles might not pay off.

And so, according to Professor Mankiw, if you have an incentive to defraud and you resist doing so you are not moral, but crazed.

Perhaps this is what has some students so concerned.

Related Articles

Analysis Blog articles and Opinion Blog articles by Stephanie Kelton

Analysis blog articles on Economics

Harvard Students Join Occupy Wall Street (GEI News)

About the Author

kelton Stephanie Kelton is Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Research Scholar at The Levy Economics Institute and Director of Graduate Student Research at the Center for Full Employment and Price Stability. Her research expertise is in: Federal Reserve operations, fiscal policy, social security, health care, international finance and employment policy. She writes at New Economic Perspectives. Full bio is available here.

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