Jamming the economic high priests at the AEA

Photo credit: Kyle Depew, The Illuminator Collective

Last weekend, at the American Economic Association conference, the rebel economists with Kick It Over proved the power of the Meme War. You can read an account of the actions we took in a recent article from the Washington Post.

Besides inspiring the heterodox and pluralist communities with a vision of a refreshingly subversive approach to transforming the profession, we also succeeded in putting the high priests of the orthodoxy on the defensive.

You could hear it in the incredulous mutterings of the neoclassical faithful as they stood, bemusedly staring at the accusations of the Kick It Over manifestos we had taped to walls throughout the conference space. You could see it in the eyes of an audience member who mad-dogged me for a good 30 seconds after I challenged former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to explain his role in fueling the financial meltdown.  We had rattled their academic silos, and the experience of such a direct challenge to their authority was disconcerting.

Why else would Greg Mankiw devote the entirety of his only blog update from the conference to a distorted recounting of the jam we pulled off in his lop-sided panel discussion on Thomas’ Piketty’s Capital? Mankiw, you may recall, is the conservative Harvard economist whose gleeful defense of obscene wealth inequality prompted a mass walkout of students from his own ec 10 introductory economics course at Harvard in 2011. Though we stuck to substantive critiques of Mankiw’s bizarre arguments for inequality (including a claim that the Occupy movement did not oppose wealth concentration!), Mankiw opted to frame our actions as a personal attack, lumping us together with a conspiratorial heckler who allegedly asked him how much the Koch Brothers were paying him. Yet, as shown in the video below, though our critiques may have been provocative, they were never puerile. Leave it to a neoclassical economist to ignore all the data that doesn’t fit his model.

While we clearly struck a nerve among the neoclassical crowd, we also struck a chord among those with a more progressive mindset. From the folks who came up to congratulate and thank us after our session jams, to the steady stream of praise from pluralist luminaries like James Galbraith and Steve Keen, there was a clear sense of excitement that, as one student commented “finally someone has begun to speak straight into the face” of the establishment.

None of this would have been possible were it not for the group of student activists who showed the exceptional courage to attend those sessions, stand up and shout their outrage over the narrowness of the orthodoxy into the faces of its high priests. Thanks to Anirban, Aparna, Dustin, Jess, Kevin, Mike and Sonia for your inspiring example to the ranks of other student rebels who are bound to follow you into this new battle for the soul of economics.

Photos courtesy of Kyle Depew, The Illuminator Collective

3 thoughts on “Jamming the economic high priests at the AEA

  1. Written by dc45 on http://www.econjobrumors.com/topic/they-got-us?replies=1#post-1951172. The copy paste post below was not done by dc45. I found his answer beneficial and it might interest you too.
    These are quite polite and relevant questions. This is how I would answer to the first three.

    Q: How do you measure progress?

    As an economist, the definition of progress comes from what we call “revealed preferences”. The simplest criterion to measure this is Pareto efficiency: If nobody wants to exchange his consumption (of goods, but also of leisure) of today with his consumption of last year, we are definitely moving forward.

    For instance, if somebody tells you “we are worse than in the seventies”, you can offer this person the choice to live with a consumption bundle of the seventies, without smartphone or Internet for instance. If the person accepts, we are moving backwards.

    There are, off course, many other possible criteria.

    Q: Climate change. How does climate change factor into our study of economics?

    I don’t know of any serious economists denying climate change. However, we study this phenomenon in terms of cost-benefit analysis. In particular, we often wonder whether the abatement costs are higher than the costs of living with climate change. The optimal bundle is most likely a combination of the two.

    There is also an important recent field studying “ambiguity” and claiming that we should abate much more than we do, because we don’t even know the actual risk we take. These people recommend a precautionary principle.

    Q: Role of Finance. What should the role of finance be in our society? … What about the role of banks?

    The role of finance is to increase the number of choices individuals and firms get, by making markets more liquid. The way it does that is by trading everything that is tradeable.

    The role of a bank is to borrow and lend money. This is very important, including for social mobility, so that even people without an initial capital can start a business.

    It is pretty consensual that a major problem with finance is that sometimes it generates “bubbles” that can lead to crisis. This implies that governments can play a role in regulating finance. Before doing so, we need to understand what would precisely be a good regulation, and this is by no way 100% consensual yet.

    A major problem with banks is that they might be scared of lending money in bad times, precisely at the moment the economy need people to start new businesses.

  2. Hello,

    I myself approve these radical advertising programs. Disrupting the constant media flow with shattering mind-melters and clever meme distribution. In short overall the idea seems definite; however, I agree mostly with season, In his sort dissertation of three points. The basis of much of this article is a differentiation between what economists are actually doing as the basis for their studies. This mis-definition often times constricts their findings to being interpreted incorrectly. Also the new era needs constant striking. I think in some aspects the campaign should be geared toward calls to action and emotional connection; as opposed to, brand knowledge and recognition.

    Moreover, along with the call’s to action and brand recognition, crowd sourcing needs to be more efficient and endearing. I love that this campaign is built on the public but I found myself wondering what could’ve been done if all of the voices were to reach each other, instead of only a select few. In any case I throughout enjoyed this article and the summations drawn from the extent of the campaign as the effects begin to prude.

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