In recent years, Greg Mankiw noticed that the students who took his economics class at Harvard seemed overly concerned about preparing for their careers. That appeared to change this week.
On Wednesday, about 70 of his students walked out of Economics 10, the introductory class he teaches, to protest what they said was a bias towards a destructive brand of free-market economics.
“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,” organisers said in an open letter to the professor, Mr Mankiw.
Mr Mankiw, who served as chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers and is an adviser to Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential contender, acknowledged that his résumé probably contributed to the decision to target his class, which at 700 students has the highest enrolment of any undergraduate course.
The course, commonly knows as Ec 10, is a requirement for several undergraduate majors and carries a pedigree that is influential even by Harvard standards. Mr Mankiw’s predecessor was Martin Feldstein, who served as chief economic adviser to Ronald Reagan. Larry Summers, the former Treasury secretary and economics adviser to President Barack Obama, acted as a teaching fellow for the course in the 1970s.
The student protesters themselves emphasised the course’s influence, writing that “Harvard graduates play major roles in the financial institutions and in shaping public policy around the world”.
Mr Mankiw told the Financial Times that while he disagreed with the protesters, he had “significant respect” for their activism. “Over recent years, I’ve seen Harvard students becoming increasingly pre-professional. That they are sitting back and thinking broadly about social issues … those are good questions for students to be asking, and to the extent that Occupy Wall Street sparks debate, that’s good.”