BUNCH OF LIBERAL ACADEMICS

I secretly enjoy it when people go off on rants about the liberal Ivory Tower of academia; it gives me an opportunity to wait until the silly David Horowitz talking points stop flowing from their talk-holes and ask them a few specific questions about the ideological makeup of the typical academic community.

The truth is that the OMG LIBRUL BRAINWASHING hypothesis stands up well only under the conditions necessary for any right wing pet theory to hold up: cherry pick some confirming evidence and ignore everything else. Sure, you're going to find a bunch of bleeding hearts in the Sociology department. Anthropology is basically a hippie commune. Don't even ask about the "Cultural/Media Studies" departments. OK, great. We've just identified about 2% of the faculty and departments at any major university. Now let's take a stroll over to the business school. Or the law school. Or the Econ department. Bastions of left-wing rhetoric, right?

The reality is that every department on every campus could be teeming with True Believer socialists committed to brainwashing their students and the level of indoctrination wouldn't hold a candle to the average two course Macro/Micro sequence in Economics. This is not to say that Econ professors are especially conniving, ideological, or bad at teaching. The problem is simply that teaching Economics in the modern American educational system means teaching Neoliberalism. It's basically Intro to Hayek and Friedman. Fukuyama may have overstated things by declaring the End of History, but we've certainly seen something close to it in Economics. There is nothing but Neoliberalism now. Everything else is quaint, referred to only as a historical curiosity, and worth knowing only inasmuch as it sets up the victorious tomahawk dunks of Neoliberalism.

Some young Harvard students have made waves recently by doing the sort of thing only college undergrads have enough self-importance to do when they walked out of Greg Mankiw's Intro to Macroeconomics class and forwarded an open letter to the media to air their grievances. Mankiw's intellectual dishonesty is well known to veteran readers of this forum, and apparently his teaching is as well rounded as his journalism and commentary. That is, his students seem to think he's teaching a 16 week infomercial for his textbook and the One True Path to Economic Righteousness.

This is news because it happened at Harvard and to an economist with a non-negligible public profile. The reality, though, is that this is pretty much par for the course in that field. Introductory economics classes, as a prerequisite for admission to business schools, pretty much give the Alex P. Keatons of the world what they want. These departments think that intellectual diversity means throwing in a reading from Robert Reich.

This is traditionally justified with appeals to Neoliberalism's often touted empirical rigor. It is "positive" and highly Scientific, thus it can reasonably be put forth as the One True Economics. It's not that economics curricula are biased, it's just that there is only one economic school of thought that makes sense! What do we need multiple theories for when we already have one that explains everything?

Oddly enough, educating Americans to believe that there is one correct economics seems to be correlated with our collective inability to consider any real alternatives politically. Perhaps this is why our solution to every economic dilemma is, "Do it again, only harder." What was that definition of insanity again?

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54 Responses to “BUNCH OF LIBERAL ACADEMICS”

  1. HoosierPoli Says:

    Neoliberals love to harp about "regulatory capture", but you never hear them breathe a word about "academic capture", probably because it pays their salaries. Endowed chairs and neolib think tanks are sprinkled around like free-market fairy dust, and you can bet deans will dance their tiny, ossified little hearts out to get it. Poli Sci departments don't seem quite as vulnerable to this sort of thing, but it's probably only a matter of time.

  2. ripley Says:

    Wow that's great news about the students walking out. Yeah I remember being mildly appalled at the number of econ PhDs (in various departments) who told me they never had to study the history of their field, because what's the point. what indeed.

  3. Zeb Says:

    I am particularly distressed by the way poor Adam Smith is taught by these clowns. That old advocate for labor unions and the minimum wage would be horrified by how his theories have been mangled to put down the human flourishing he most cared about.

  4. Tim Says:

    @Zeb

    There's nothing like paraphrasing Adam Smith to an econ major and being told you must have been reading the wrong Smith. It says so, so much.

  5. brettvk Says:

    One of the commentators at HPR compared teaching anything other than neolib econ to demanding critical theories opposing evolution in natural history courses. I'd love to see someone compare the evidence for Mankiw versus Darwin.

  6. Middle Seaman Says:

    Bridges and computers are not neo or geo. From a engineering school vantage point nothing is left or right and even organizational structures have no soul. But we all live within the 21st century university with it WS-like thinking, compensation, hierarchy and emphasis.

    We are in the money business and an not an educational institution anymore. Presidents of even lesser academic institutions get seven figures salaried and their endless collection of VPs are greener than the smiths' front yard. You cannot take the elevator to the penthouse and give the president a piece of your mind. Even your dean is too busy for you. Above all, bring us $$$. It is not publish or perish anymore; it's bring me the million Dollar grants or get packing.

    Nothing about the American university is liberal today; it is all Bloomberg and CNBC.

  7. Zeb Says:

    @tim

    Exactly. It shocks Econ majors that many of the intellectual founders of what we now call capitalism (certainly Smith and Mill, and I believe Ricardo too) had little in common with the defenders of corporations of today. Smith would've smacked Milton Friedman around…

    Again, this just reinforces Ripley's point above: few Econ students, or even professors, study the history of their discipline

  8. Jimcat Says:

    One true economic theory, which is "scientifically proven" to be right and brooks no dissent? Those neoliberals have more in common with Marx than they want to admit.

  9. Jude Says:

    "The victorious tomahawk dunks of Neoliberalism." You, sir, are a poet.

  10. Arslan Says:

    Jimcat, Marx's theories are far more scientific than what comes out of the neoclassical school. Marxism does not purport to invalidate neoclassical economics, it merely looks at things from a different, more comprehensive angle. I suggest heading over to the site of Professor Richard Wolff to see how Marxism is taught these days. Even in his FAQ he states that Marxism and mainstream economic theories are not necessarily mutually exclusive(though the mainstream economists would disagree), rather he compares them to two different types of untensils, chopsticks and western cutlery. The point is that both are perfectly effective for eating, but they work on different principles.

  11. Fiddlin' Bill Says:

    Apparently both the Democratic and Republican parties are now peopled by individuals brought up in the neoliberal econ school. This explains a lot doesn't it–for example, why we're about to be fucked by a "super committee" of 12, who together represent about 15% of the electorate. "Don't bother your pretty heads" is pretty much the agenda. Hopefully Tuesday's election will be a bit of a wake up call. When Mississippi rejects an absolutist right to life amendment while at the same time electing a lieutenant governor who characterizes such a vote as "satanic," politicians ought to take notice–there's a cattle prod heading their way.

  12. Grumpygradstudent Says:

    As a public policy student, I'm surrounded by a lot of economists. Being a neo-liberal doesn't mean you're against government, but it does mean that you want government only in those situations where the market will not be efficient (i.e., when there's a market failure) and when it's cost-effective to intervene.

    The big problem i have with economists is that they sometimes treat efficiency as if it's the only value society might want to pursue, like it's some kind of "uber value" toward which all other values must scrape and bow. Yes, a perfectly competitive market will be efficient. Ok, fine. A perfectly competitive market may also result in people starving to death. A perfectly competitive market may result in a species going extinct. These results may be completely pareto optimal (i.e., there may very well be no market failure at all).

    A good economist will recognize this and will just circumscribe his policy prescriptions with the caveat that "I can only advise you about efficiency. If you care about other values, I can't help you." But unfortunately, the collective hubris and self-absorption in that field is indeed off the charts.

  13. Hawes Says:

    I had a student – seemed pretty leftleaning – write about OWS. He said something along the lines of: "When people start spouting Marx it's a sure sign that capitalism is bankrupt." I thought that was pretty astute for a 17 year old. But it also demonstrates that Marx isn't a "real" ideology. It's the equivalence of conspiracy theories.

    When I teach Comp Gov, I have a hard time making the kids understand things like neo-corporatism or democratic socialism. Pretty much the whole first semester is spent forcing them to grasp the idea that there is something else that people might willingly choose besides liberal economics and liberal democracy.

  14. Basilisc Says:

    Many, many years ago (in the 1980s), when I took Ec 10 and it was taught by Martin Feldstein, we learned that neoclassical economic theory was not an ideology, but a useful way of organizing ideas. Yes, free markets produce the optimal competitive equilibrium under the right conditions, but even that old Reaganite Marty had no problem pointing out that the conditions often don't hold. If there are externalities (like pollution), you address them with taxes or regulation. Workers individually have weak bargaining power, so they form unions. Taxes may be distortionary, but the government needs to finance itself, so you try to set up a tax system that's as non-distortionary, and as fair in terms of burdens across the income spectrum, as possible given your revenue needs. And as far as macro goes, we pretty much learned the Keynes-Hicks-Samuelson synthesis. There were a few "radicals" around, but they basically just whined about workers' rights, lusted after the Swedish model, and were ignored.

    I don't know if Mankiw teaches it the same way – his textbook suggests he does, but his politics suggest, probably not.

    Nowadays I see that even Feldstein, who's been quietly supporting fiscal stimulus for a while now, is considered a fringe figure. I'm left wondering, when did the old common sense synthesis become radical liberalism? And why?

  15. Arslan Says:

    Marx is not a "conspiracy theory." People start "spouting Marx" because slowly they are starting to realize that the common capitalist narratives they have bought into aren't rooted in any reality.

  16. Ike Says:

    Of course, very few people actually read Marx or even know that the -ism came from an actual man. I suppose the material doesn't make for very interesting cable television.

  17. Duverger's outlaw Says:

    Ariel Rubinstein (one of the most respected game theorists, and a past member of the American Econometric Association) basically argues that that students are taught ideology, especially in economics grad programs, and that such programs turn them into selfish assholes (obviously he does not use those words) when compared to grad students in philosophy and even business. He has an empirical paper about this.

    Of course Rubinstein also believes that game theory itself tells us nothing about reality, and it's more of a tool to construct fables and indirectly affect the culture (as fables tend to do), but that's another discussion altogether.

  18. duverger's outlaw Says:

    Also the person who talked about 'efficiency above,' no economists do not even tell us about efficiency, and they logically cannot because the word 'efficiency' refers to means, not ends. One has to ask, efficiency for whom (laying people off is very 'efficient' for business sometimes, not so for those being laid off)? Assertion of 'global' or 'societal' efficiency (or Pareto efficiency) is very often an exercise in hand waving especially in a vast majority of the contexts that most economists use it in.

  19. Elle Says:

    Of course Rubinstein also believes that game theory itself tells us nothing about reality, and it's more of a tool to construct fables and indirectly affect the culture (as fables tend to do), but that's another discussion altogether.

    I wish more people would read Rubinstein before they subject me (and others) to arid conjecture that masquerades as objectivity. Non-academic stakeholders in the field I work in find game theory explanations to be persuasive, because they offer the simulation of science, if not the reality, with all of those lovely equations. Unpacking what is actually happening within the model is often such a recondite task, that it masks the fact that garbage in == garbage out.

    You make such good points, Duverger's outlaw, and I also like your handle.

    I'm sorry, Hawes, but I'm a little bit sad at the thought that someone responsible for teaching young people thinks that Marx is the equivalent of a 9/11 truther.

  20. acer Says:

    Time to beat the drum for Doug Rushkoff again.

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/rushkoff09/rushkoff09_index.html

    Marx, Keynes and co. aside, the "science" of economics was always primarily about regressive redistribution. Economists just hit a rare grand-slam with neoliberalism and can't let it go. Their cognitive dissonance since the '08 collapse is a hideous thing to behold.

  21. Michael Says:

    Any standard economics 101 textbook is basically teaching a load of nonsense. There's a nonsense view of the world, utterly contradicted by the evidence, that is taught as Gospel. Individuals make rational economic decisions. Markets tend toward perfection. The less government intervention, the better a market is.

    Every one of those is known to be utterly false. But that's the only view of the world available in any Economics course that I've ever encountered. Seriously, is there an Economics textbook anywhere that teaches that individuals make irrational decisions, that markets tend toward the extremes and that almost no markets in the real world are anywhere close to the supposed perfect market, that only government intervention has ever made any market possible at all?

    Garbage in, garbage out. It should be no surprise that there's a generation of Alex P. Keatons running the world.

  22. Amanda Says:

    I have to take macro next semester as a business prereq. Thanks for giving me a heads up to be on the lookout. :-)

  23. ladiesbane Says:

    It's not just the economy. The Conservative insistence on singularity over plurality (and diversity) is their hunger to live in a black-and-white world. Ignoring shades of grey is how they accomplish it.

    Insisting that, despite changing circumstances, they only need ONE economic theory (one god, one definition of marriage, one ring to rule them all) reflects the party philosophy to stop time, sweep back the tide, and declare everything not forbidden to be compulsory. Standing by an economic model that worked great for a small agricultural system hundreds of years ago sounds like just their speed.

    More than one deep-right guy, while on a tear, has told me, "If everyone would just do things my way, we wouldn't have these problems!" — Oh, honey, me too. But since no one is likely to die and make us gods, why not accommodate reality, in all its chaos, and figure out solutions that will work in the real world? This is not a laboratory environment.

  24. Jon Says:

    I'm in a micro class currently that uses Mankiw's textbook. I was really disappointed that there was no real alternative theories of economics discussed in the book. (and when they were, he was just rhetorically setting them up to be trumped by neoliberal mainstays). This course as well as well as some of my policy courses are taught by your basic free-market conservative professors.

  25. JohnR Says:

    Your forgetting that most of us hate uncertainty. Using our heads makes our brain hurt. Anti-science, etc. That's why politics in in many places inevitably boils down to Governor Marley's classic campaign slogan "When there's only one candidate, there's only one choice!" In general, people prefer that – we're just too busy to have to bother with all these darned choices. Freedom is just too troublesome, especially before I've even had my coffee.

  26. acer Says:

    "If everyone would just do things my way, we wouldn't have these problems!"

    Wasn't that Ross Perot's entire campaign platform? Way to keep yourself sane, dude.

  27. Major Kong Says:

    I actually think that Marx's critique of 19th century Capitalism was pretty spot on.

    It's just that his cure was worse than the disease.

  28. Duverger's outlaw Says:

    Thanks Elle; one of the objectives of the political economy course I teach is to create at least some pains in the ass undergrads for economics professors.

    Also, Major Kong, Marx wrote precious little about his "cure." Most of his work was an analysis of capitalism (in fact in many ways, he was the last classical economist, having more in common with Smith and Ricardo than the neo-classicals who claim the latter two). His writings about a future society was quite sparse and vague (and hence the many disputes about his "true" vision). Of course, "young" Marx the philosopher and political theorist basically envisaged a society that would promote maximum human potential (very similar to anarchists), but again there was very little that was concrete.

  29. Duverger's outlaw Says:

    Oops, typo above, meant to say "would realize maximum human potential."

  30. Emily Says:

    Just to add a data point…I've taught at three law schools and found them all to be VERY left-leaning. Don't get me wrong — I like it — but the average law school may not be the bastion of conservatism you are imagining.

  31. Chris Says:

    The version taught in universities is not Austrian economics(Hayek etc) but Neoclassical theory.It is both theoretically and empirically wrong.Still Universities continue to teach it.Same with financial studies.They still teach the Black-Scholes model…The only solution to all this is to nuke the universities.

  32. J. Dryden Says:

    It's curious for me to view this debate from within one of the hotbeds of what is popularly assumed to be entrenched liberalism: English Lit. Many of my students are decidedly blue-collar Red-Staters and many of them are older and Fox-Newsians, and they come into class just aching to hear me say one of the trigger-words so they can go to town on me. At the same time, many of my students are in their late-teens/early-20s period of uber-liberalism–intolerantly idealistic about all things, and are aching just as much to demonstrate how much more enlightened-than-thou they are. (Then there are the ones in the middle, who just want to get through the hour without falling asleep. Love those cute little guys.)

    Me, I just deal with it by stating up front that, regardless of my politics, philosophy, and religious beliefs, none of which I will share or recommend, they will be held entirely responsible for the validity of their positions. If they speak up–and I encourage them to do so–I will grill them on the reasons and justifications for their opinions. My job, I explain, is not and should not be to tell them what to think. My job is make sure that their opinions are the result of thought, reflection, education, and experience, expressed in an intelligent and articulate manner.

    "I'm biased," I tell them. "So are you. That's as it should be. But if all we are is biased–if we don't set aside our egos when we come into this room and devote ourselves to making sure that our bias is the result of intelligence and experience rather than laziness and narcissism, well, then, that doesn't say much for the validity of that bias, does it?"

    That either shuts them up or, in the case of the students of whom I am most proud, inspires them to offer support for their views the next go-around. Which requires me to step up my game in order to defend my position. Which does the same for them, the next time. And so on. It's pretty much the kind of educational experience that college should provide. Mankiw is a dick/loser not because he's wrong, but because he clearly doesn't give a shit about actually teaching, and/or because he doesn't have the wherewithal to justify his opinions when they're questioned.

    (Note: In reviewing this post, I realize that it's a thinly veiled "I am so much more awesome at my job than this guy" boast. Which is true. Because I am. But I also recognize, in Mankiw's defense, that you can't have that kind of back-and-forthing in a 100+ students lecture-based class. Even so: Fuck that guy. His approach to teaching is modeled on his views on capitalist economics–small power base controlling a monopolized market of consumers treated like serfs–so I have no qualms.)

  33. Arslan Says:

    "I actually think that Marx's critique of 19th century Capitalism was pretty spot on.

    It's just that his cure was worse than the disease."

    I live in post Soviet Russia, so no, it wasn't "worse." We are supposed be down to about 114 million people by 2030, if we're lucky. That might not seem like such a problem until you realize that most Russian citizens not trying to emigrate are trying to move to Moscow. Officially we've got something like 15 million in the capital last time I checked(it was a while ago).

    "The version taught in universities is not Austrian economics(Hayek etc) but Neoclassical theory.It is both theoretically and empirically wrong.Still Universities continue to teach it."

    The Austrian school is also theoretically and empirically wrong. In fact they basically admit this.

  34. doug Says:

    J. Dryden you are right on the money. Mankiw can't handle back and forth in any size class,however.
    I always am amazed to see his propaganda site called a blog. I think of blogs as having comments. He quit allowing those when he started getting slammed intelligently and relentlessly in the comments. His solution: No more comments. Wimp…..

  35. djplanb Says:

    Economics as a discipline is a joke and will be until the entire discipline takes seriously the idea of "true cost economics". http://www.adbusters.org/campaigns/truecosteconomics

  36. Jeremy Says:

    Economics is a unique subject. Like neoclassical microeconomics (Econ 101), classical mechanics is wrong, but useful. It's still taught, but people don't hold onto it for dear life. For example, when a Nobel laureate physicist says something like "The universe has 17 dimensions, two of which are purple," the man on the street thinks, "Wow, even though I never learned that in physics 101, it's possible I don't know everything about physics!"

    However, when a Nobel (excuse me, Sveriges Reichsbank) prize-winning economist says, "Raising the minimum wage doesn't lower employment," everyone who took Econ 101 (and stopped there) starts foaming at the mouth, "No, no, econ 101 says it can't happen, supply and demand blah blah." They never think, "Oh, maybe I don't know everything about economics."

    Basilisc has the right idea about what students ought to take away from an intro econ course.

  37. jjack Says:

    I had to take the one-semester micro/macro survey of econ and our professor was actually pretty left. I thought it was pretty funny that he spent a lot of the semester teaching us how the fairytale Junior Achievement version of economics was all wrong because of collusion, oligpoly, completely fucked up tax loopholes, etc.

  38. circularreasoning Says:

    Another important aspect to your argument is to look at the administrative side of things. How "progressive" are the college/university presidents, deans, and other various administrators as well as trustees and donors who ultimately have a lot to say about who fills those classrooms?

    Of course, they will just accuse you of wanting to "teach the controversy".

  39. Ellie Says:

    Well, I for one am feeling way better about that "D" I earned in Economics 101. Apparently my "none of this makes any sense" take was far more brilliant than I realized.

  40. Charles Says:

    From what I've been told, intro to macro/micro is only the starting point for econ teaching. They give you the basics of classical theory. This tends to be a pretty conservative view and its as far as most undergrads get. In grad school, they teach you how wrong the classical theories are and provide the more modern theories. The problem is that most people who take econ never get past the "markets are perfect" part of the discussion and take that fraction of an economics education with them through the rest of their lives. This explanation comes not from personal experience but from reading Krugman, DeLong, and Thoma. I'd trust them on it, though.

  41. Elle Says:

    @Charles

    You would be absolutely amazed how few economists, including those working for Governments, supra-national institutions, and global corporations, have any exposure to heterodox economics.

    Economic modelling at the nation state level is underpinned, theoretically, by neoclassical orthodoxy.

  42. ConcernedCitizen Says:

    @acer – Thanks for that essay. I love edge.org but I haven't been there for awhile. Thank you for sending me back.

    With that said, I have to ask (rhetorically): do people actually think economics is comparable to natural sciences? The few classes I took in high school and college seemed to offer exercises in theoretical models, not real world application, real world explanation.

    I gotta say, I've learned more about economics and, generally, how the world actually works, by studying history – both contemporary and classical. A sufficiently astute study of history offers insight into economics, sociology, government, even psychology at a less-than-clinical level. In my opinion, if you want to grasp the underlying principles that determine how money flows through this world, read about US military interventions in Latin America in the 50s and 60s, read about the labor movements of the early 20th century, read about the colonial trade systems of the 18th, read about the rise of agrarian societies in ancient times. It's all there. It's has all already played out, albeit under different circumstances and with different technology. The players though, those don't change.

    Anyway, I'd like to leave you all with this downright eerie passage from Adam Smith, seeing as how we're discussing neoliberalism:

    "But what all the violence of the feudal institutions could never have effected, the silent and insensible operation of foreign commerce and manufactures gradually brought about. These furnished the great proprietors with something for which they could exchange the whole surplus produce of their lands, and which they could consume themselves without sharing it either with tenants or retainers. All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind."
    -Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book III

  43. Mo Says:

    Tnx, Concerned Citizen. Why I love Adam Smith – he never seems to get so carried away by the beauty of theory that he ignores the effects on actual human beings.

    Am currently re-reading Debt: The First 5,000 Years and my experience is similar to yours. Yeah, I can do math, but history makes the booming and echoing repercussions so much more vivid.

    Gotta go, Igor needs some help on The Glooper.

  44. Ike Says:

    Goddammit people. You've let me know about yet another area I know very little about and so my Amazon wishlist grows and grows. Too many books, not enough time.

  45. Neal Deesit Says:

    Dean Baker: "The conventional view is that conservatives place a huge value on market outcomes. It is common for progressives or liberals to deride them as “market fundamentalists”, as though they worship the market as an end in itself. By contrast, liberals/progressives are supposedly prepared to use the hand of government to override market outcomes in order to promote goals like poverty reduction or equality. I argue in the book that this view is completely wrong, and worse that it plays into the hands of the right.

    "I argue that the right has quite deliberately structured markets in a way that have the effect of redistributing income upward. The upward redistribution of the last three decades did not just happen, it was engineered.

    The End of Loser Liberalism: An Interview with Dean Baker Part I

  46. Xynzee Says:

    @Arslan: I believe a few months ago you posited the question at that wet nosed econ acolyte why is it that only capitalism is the economic frame work that's allowed multiple chances to fail? (it goes with Ed's concluding sentence).

    The big failure we're having here is that somewhere along the line we allowed the economists with their graphs/curves and a few vaguely representational mathematical "formulae" — hey it's got a +/-x sign in it so it must be math! — to convince us that they do "pure" science. It's a social science and always will be. No matter how hard you try you can't isolate the elements and repeat the experiment over and over to achieve the same result. It just leans right at the moment because it reflects an image of ourselves we want to see.

    @Amanda: get "How to Argue with an Economist" it's Australian but it could give you some sand to throw in the gears.

    @Mjr Kong: FYI http://www.smh.com.au/travel/travel-news/qantas-pilots-challenge-umpires-ruling-20111110-1n9ka.html

  47. Publius Says:

    @Neal Deesit: Baker's point is exactly what I've suspected for some time now. Sad how long it took me to put that together, sadder still that my college education was in no way helpful in leading me to recognize the inherent regressive nature of our markets.

    I always felt my education was leaving some rather important gaps in my knowledge, but as an adult I've come to understand that they were deliberate. Academia has its orthodoxies to uphold like any other entrenched power. Hell, even parents avoid discussing topics they find threatening…why should a university be any different?

    I also think it may be a bit strident to get all that worked up over the misuse of statistical models in the social sciences. The "hard" sciences have made some notoriously inaccurate assessments of the physical world using enormous amounts of calculation, and have also been subject to periodic upheavals when widely held theorems are turned on their head. The point of the academic system is that when someone spouts an errant argument (stats and all) someone else will call them on their mistakes.

    What Ed is talking about (IMO) is that open-minded truth seeking in both academia and politics has been replaced with dogma. I agree with his assessment, but wonder if any society has ever overcome the ossification of its ideas on its own. I can't think of any group, nation, institution that changed its ideas for the sake of the truth when telling a few well-framed falsehoods would benefit them immensely.

    To whit: economists who piously espouse neoliberalism threaten no one important and flatter those in the best position to subsidize their careers. Speaking truth to power has never been a profitable or secure venture. When one questions entrenched power, one must expect that power to array itself against him. Honesty is praised, but honest men freeze, as the ancient Greeks used to say. That is to say, I would imagine that it's difficult to get an unbiased accounting of the field of economics in any university in the world.

  48. ElderMPAer Says:

    I am a graduate student in public administration, returning to the ivory tower after along absence. (Yes, I am an AARP member, but just barely!)

    The coursework to Music and Sociology degrees don't much incorporate economics. So, I am just now being baptized into the cult by virtue of taking my required "Public Finance" course. I have NEVER studied anything so counter-intuitive and frankly, so insulting, as neoclassical economic theory. To top it off, it is the ONLY theoretic basis offered to frame our "learnin'" about government funding, etc.

    When the semester ends, I will be writing a letter of complaint to the dean, burning my textbook, and taking a long hot shower to wash away the filth of this pseudo-science.

  49. Todd Ernst Says:

    I was once chatting with a communist party member from Belgium. She was complaining that all the communists there were neo-liberals too.

  50. JazzBumpa Says:

    Wow. This is a very darn good post. Kudos, Ed.

    But what elevates it to serious contender for best blog post evah is this comment stream.

    I've learned things, and, better yet, picked up a bunch of sources where I can learn even more.

    Here is my contribution.

    http://www.amazon.com/Debunking-Economics-Emperor-Social-Sciences/dp/1856499928

    http://debunkingeconomics.com/

    http://www.debtdeflation.com/blogs/

    Full disclosure: I haven't read any of this stuff . . . Yet.

    Cheers!
    JzB

  51. JimD Says:

    As an economist who sometimes comes by here, I'd like to offer a dissenting opinion. Mankiw's textbook (and most standard economics courses) aren't driven by "Hayek and Friedman" . Much of the time is taken up by fairly mundane topics such as supply and demand, cost curves and the like.

    Furthermore, the book (and the courses) are quite consistent with government-run health care, a stimulus program, greater regulation of banking and the financial system and a host of other "liberal" policies.

    It's true that there's almost no discussion of Marxist economics, and if that's the criticism, then fine. But to define one course by the politics of one professor, seems an unreasonable way to judge the class.

  52. Burple Says:

    Buddy of mine was the outside member on a dissertation defense in the top-30 econ department at our mega public U a while ago. Student says, the results of these analyses didn't conform to the theory, so we threw out the data. My buddy nearly falls out of his chair. The economists nodded sagely as if all was well. I think that's all you need to know about economics as it is mostly practiced.

  53. jazzbumpa Says:

    JimD –

    It's not just that there is no discussion of Marx – though, I hope, you will grant that that is a valid criticism; it's that Keynes has totally gone down the memory hole as well.

    It's quite striking that the open letter mentions Keynes,

    http://hpronline.org/campus/an-open-letter-to-greg-mankiw/

    but the response mentions Marx – as you have. (unfortunately, I cannot come up with the link.) This is the typical conservative trick of changing the subject.

    Krugman has beat this drum repeatedly – the Chicago school's implicit denial that Keynes ever existed. This is the big problem, and here in liquidity trap land, it's especially relevant.

    Cheers!
    JzB

  54. vghoul Says:

    Living with someone who's in a Public Admin program, at the moment, I hear a lot about this. It seems like Economists have a pretty big chip on their shoulders about how THIS IS HARD SCIENCE AND NOT SOME KIND OF PSEUDO-SCIENCE LIKE PSYCHOLOGY OR SOCIOLOGY I guess because it's a way of talking about psychology and sociology that involves math and charts and shit. Oh, and operating within the confines of a sort of Euclidean pseudo-reality and mistaking it for Actual Reality. That's pretty damn scientific.