Monday, December 05, 2011

Walkout - Rethinking Economics

A Harvard class of Introductory Economics recently walked out of Prof. Mankiw's lecture on introductory economics. Prof. Mankiw posted a response yesterday stating that it is a simple introductory course and not a doctrine and should be approached as method or a tool. Peter Dorman countered that there are essential gaps in introductory economics and the course needs to change, a small protest does push things in right direction.

I think the protest was wrong but I disagree with Mankiw.

I think the first main malady economics suffers is listening. A lot of economists talk about Keynes - Hayek debate as though it is equivalent to the intellectual volleying we are having today. Let us remember Keynes and Hayek actually listened to each other. Most economists I read are almost blind to other side. It is like left-inclined and right-inclined economists are playing rock-paper-scissors. 

Economists fraternity must realise lack of listening skill is what is wrong with economists. The Harvard students, in their first class itself, showed exactly this tendency. That is what saddens me.

Here are some of my thoughts about economics.
  1. Teachers must present to the students the entire spectrum left to right, and let them choose. In Chicago, Milton Friedman and fellow Professor used to do exactly that. Friedman is known rightist while his colleague taught the leftist view.
  2. While I like professors taking side they believe in, I think a reverse role-play would do world of good. It would have been good to have Milton Friedman teaching leftist view, in true spirit. It would have done him a world of good.
  3. Keynesian economics, as I understand it, was forming on base of data, information, ideas, theories and other socio-cultural inputs. I think that is what economics must try to be. If he had lived longer, I believe, you may have seen Keynes disagree with current bailouts.
  4. Economics and economists are too literal. They just focus on the written word and many times leave out the context thus missing the meaning. They are worse than law students. Scientists, on the other hand, can focus on written word because they have a language of mathematics that allows them to do so. If economics needs a language the current variety of mathematics is definitely inadequate.