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 Harvard's Econ 101 Class Will Never Be the Same

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PostSubject: Harvard's Econ 101 Class Will Never Be the Same   Wed Mar 13, 2019 10:22 am

For a whole generation, Harvard professor Gregory Mankiw defined the conventional wisdom in economics. He taught the university’s introductory course for 14 years. I read his best-selling textbooks to help prepare for grad school, and later used them when I taught undergraduate macroeconomics. When people say “Econ 101,” he’s probably somewhere in the back of their minds.
Now, the era of Mankiw may be coming to an end. He’s stepping down from Harvard’s “Principles of Economics,” giving way to an era of greater uncertainty.
Mankiw’s economics is based largely on classic ideas. The idea that the market is a mostly well-functioning system driven by rational actors engaging in voluntary trade for mutual benefit goes back to 18th and 19th century economists like Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Leon Walras, and William Jevons. And the theory of supply and demand, which undergirds much of Mankiw’s introductory-level analysis, was formalized by economist Alfred Marshall, himself the author of a famous textbook called “Principles of Economics.”
But critics of Mankiw have always perceived a political slant. Mankiw’s first basic principle of economics asserts a fundamental tradeoff between economic efficiency and equality. The reasoning is that government redistribution interferes with the optimal working of the economy. But while there are certainly forms of redistribution that injure the economy, there’s little evidence to support the notion of a universal tradeoff -- richer countries, in fact, tend to spend more on social protections. Meanwhile, Mankiw’s notion of a tradeoff ignores the possibility that more productive ways of organizing an economy may also cause inequality to fall, even without redistribution.

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