Ask your economics professor this: If you support academic free inquiry, why don’t we have a pluralist economics curriculum? Why aren’t multiple schools of economic thought (Marxian, Post-Keynesian, Ecological and so forth) taught in our program instead of this dogmatic focus on the neoclassical canon?
That’s essentially the question that heterodox economics professor Julie Matthaei and I put to a lecturer from the infamous University of Chicago economics program and a libertarian professor from the Koch-funded George Mason University during a debate on Al Jazeera’s program The Stream yesterday. Their answer — that we in fact should open our economics programs and journals up to pluralist debate — might surprise you. Then again, it might not. After all, it’s hard to sound reasonable while arguing against intellectual openness, and its even harder to pose as a supporter of the “free market” when you oppose a free market of ideas in your very own classroom.
Of course without action it’s all empty rhetoric. So who’s down to help us make some real headway at these bastions of right-wing thought and bring the Battle for the Soul of Economics to Friedman and Koch territory?
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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