Friday, November 04, 2011

Another Sign of Restlessness in Academe?

Mike Meeropol, a professor of economics and Chair, Department of Economics, Western New England College, Springfield, Massachusetts, on the student revolt in Greg Mankiw’s Economic 10 class, writes in Real-World Economics Review commenting on the Open Letter some students sent to Manikiw on their complaints about his introductory economics class and its contents.

Students of Greg Mankiw should be aware that not only does he privilege Adam Smith over John Maynard Keynes — but he privileges a FALSE version of Adam Smith over John Maynard Keynes. Smith was both a nationalist and a pro-employment economist —

In Mankiw’s Principles text (at least the 1998 editon) his mention of Adam Smith’s use of the concept of “the invisible hand” in THE WEALTH OF NATIONS borders on academic malpractice. Not only does Mankiw leave our Smith’s focus on investors preferring domestic investment to foreign investment as a prime example of the invisible hand at work, but he runs together the brief mention of the self interest of the butcher and grocer from BOOK I with the only reference to the “invisible hand” from BOOK IV.

It would be interesting to see how Mankiw responds to the “real” Adam Smith on “the invisible hand.”

Anyone interested can check out my detailed article from the PERI website –

The key pages in the article are 5-6 — and check out footnote 12.

There is a great article by Joseph Persky in the Journal of Economic Perspectives that spells this out excellently: “Retrospectives: Adam Smith’s Invisible Hands.” JOURNAL OF ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVES 1989 (number 4), pp. 195-201.

In Adam Smith’s day, Scottish students had potential power in that it was they who paid their tuition fees direct to the professors.

If they were dissatisfied with their tuition they could desist from paying Professor A and attended instead, Professor B’s class.

Their basic fees for sustenance and university charges were paid by their scholarships, bursaries, charities and parents. When Smith left Glasgow in mid-term 1763-4 he personally paid back to his students their fees

Now Greg Mankiw’s problem is that the ‘walk-out’ was very public and has attracted media attention (and, no doubt, the college authorities). Their complaints about their textbooks not having a proper account of what Adam Smith wrote in Wealth Of Nations and Moral Sentiments are telling – Manikew wrote them! No excuses, then. Linking reward to effort works, in Smith’s view. He experienced the alternative (modern) regime at Oxford, 1740-46; it was a salutary lesson – he applied it to the Church of England in Wealth Of Nations (Book V), with its moral corruption in comparison with the more democratic Scottish Presbyterian practice – Kirk members chose their ministers and could (and did) sack them too.

With Noam Chomsky’s new reading of Adam Smith (see below), the outcome from this restlessness promises to be good for scholarship, unless suppressed by the authorities.



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