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October 23, 2012

Spend 30 minutes with Stephen Marglin

Here. Who the Crimson described at the "sole radical tenured professor" in Harvard's econ dept. 

Here's a story he tells that I enjoyed. He proposed that he teach an introductory course--an altnerative to Harvard's famous EC 10--in which he would both present mainstream economics and several critiques of it. The economics department voted it down by 30-something to 2. One of the senior faculty members told him that there were only two types of economics: good economics and bad economics and that at Harvard they taught only the good kind. He asked the only other econ faculty member who voted for it why he did and Marglin reports that the faculty member said that if any senior faculty member was stupid enough to want to teach Principles he should be allowed to. 

The end of the story? Harvard's core curriculum committee unanimously approved the course. So he has been teaching it for some time. 


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Joe R.

Another unintelligible sentence from the comments, this one after the Harvard Crimson article:

"As for a better mode of production and exchange, that would involve a switch from the employment of wage-labour by capitalists and the political State to labour compensating itself on the basis of socially necessary labour time put into the communally owned/democratically managed social product of labour. "


I think it is important to distinguish political views from views on economic methodology. Harvard economics is not particularly right-wing, politically (Barro and Mankiw are vocal, but not representative). Marty Weitzman wrote The Share Economy in the 70s and recently has focused on global warming. Larry Summers and others advised Pres. Obama.

However, it is true that all leading economics depts espouse the same analytical framework: methodological individualism, preferences, utility, rationality, supply and demand, equilibrium, all that good stuff.

Marglin is shunned for his methodology, not his politics. Should there be methodological diversity in every department, as Marglin argues? Would Marglin argue history or critical analysis in literature needs more courses and scholars using expected utility and rationality? I don't know. I don't think so, as long as there is at the university level. That is, other fields reject the tools of economics, in favor of tools Marglin uses. As long as we have diversity overall, why should we insist on having diversity in every single field?

eric falkenstein

Given the actual debates in policy, I think professional economists should be better versed in debating these points. Hiding behind theoretical models and econometrics doesn't make the big debate from going away. I think he is wrong, but I think it is useful to hear from him and would be fruitful to debate him.

His early paper 'What do bosses do?' was actually pretty interesting, though vastly overstated. He noted that managers have a strong incentive to withold information to protect their turf, and clearly that kind of problem exists in any large organization (not just profit oriented ones).

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