They’re not all wrong

Harvard students walk out of Greg Mankiw’s basis economics class:

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. We are deeply concerned about the way that this bias affects students, the University, and our greater society.

As Harvard undergraduates, we enrolled in Economics 10 hoping to gain a broad and introductory foundation of economic theory that would assist us in our various intellectual pursuits and diverse disciplines, which range from Economics, to Government, to Environmental Sciences and Public Policy, and beyond. 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.

A legitimate academic study of economics must include a critical discussion of both the benefits and flaws of different economic simplifying models. As your class does not include primary sources and rarely features articles from academic journals, we have very little access to alternative approaches to economics. There is no justification for presenting Adam Smith’s economic theories as more fundamental or basic than, for example, Keynesian theory.

On the one hand, this protest makes no sense. They’ll get no shortage of Keynesianism from Mankiw, even if most of the explicit Keynesianism won’t be provided until a subsequent macro class rather than in what is Harvard’s equivalent of Econ 101. But whether you prefer to describe Mankiw as a neoclassical or a monetarist, he’s still a Samuelsonian attempting to manage the economy in macroeconomics terms. He’s a Keynesian heretic, and would be better described as a quasi-Keynesian than an anti-Keynesian, Steve Keen’s opinion on the correct categorizations notwithstanding.

On the other, they’re absolutely right. Contra most academic programs, including the one in which I received my degree, Adam Smith is neither basic or fundamental. A proper education in economics should begin with Cantillon and Turgot.