Tag Archives: Jack Soltysik

Anti-Mankiw: What’s Wrong with the Most Popular Economics Textbook

Here I am reproducing in its entirety a post over on Facebook from my old college roommate and current TFA teacher, Jack Soltysik. Jack remains a friend, of course, and is the most motivated smart person I know. Since leaving college, we have kept in contact and my respect for his intellectual faculties and integrity has only grown.

On a side note, my 2000 National Spelling Bee winning brother went to Harvard to become a doctor ([sarcasm]and of course is now getting into finance [/sarcasm]) and as recently as 2007 told me that he sometimes had dinner with professors including Mankiw.

In any case, I agree with Jack on Mankiw. But here I’ll let him speak for himself. The entire post is worth reading:

Greg Mankiw writes the most widely used econ text in the country and I thought it was cool that he linked to some recent protests (http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2010/04/anti-mankiw-movement.html). What follows, I guess, is my 2 cents.

A few years back, Mankiw wrote:

“Some students may view the economic mainstream as right of center. That assessment is probably correct, at least as judged by the universe of college professors. But the job of an introductory course is to present, as honestly as possible, the consensus of the profession. If the typical economist is more market-friendly than the typical literature professor, then that point of view will likely be reflected in the leading textbooks.”

I think that I’m *generally* satisfied with this approach to academic openness and freedom. Sociologists are to the left of political scientists which are to the left of economists (please keep in mind that something like 80-90% of economists identify as Democrats and the the numbers for journal editors are higher). I don’t think any discipline is crazy; I think most ideas in college curricula are reasonable and to the extent that you disagree with models of thinking, don’t take the course; and if you can’t avoid the course, it will probably do good for you to be exposed to contrarian ideas; and you will have plenty of opportunities to study and read about whatever the hell you want.

But I think a bigger issue is that the foundations of economics, by the beginning of the 20th century, were divorced from ethics, rewedded to calculus, and there has been very little looking back. When Keynes weaved together his General Theory to get a trodden world out of the depression, the entire “trick” was analytical; it was done on pen and paper with maths. He opens up his book by saying:

The classical theorists resemble Euclidean geometers in a non-Euclidean world who, discovering that in experience straight lines apparently parallel often meet, rebuke the lines for not keeping straight—as the only remedy for the unfortunate collisions which are occurring. Yet, in truth, there is no remedy except to thro over the axiom of parallels and to work out a non-Euclidean geometry.”
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