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December 21, 2009

Greg Mankiw, Teaching by Example

Fire Larry Summers Now! is a funny little blug written by an anonymous economics graduate student at an unidentified fancy college. Recently Greg Mankiw, who's an extremely fancy economics professor at Harvard and was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors during the Bush administration, sent the blug some email:

I have stumbled upon your blog a couple times, and I must say that I am very much put off by it. The blogosphere is fill with too much rude ad hominem rhetoric. Engaging in it under a pen name seems particularly cowardly. I recommend having the courage of your convictions by revealing your name. Otherwise, stop the mean-spiritied attacks on Larry Summers and other economists of note.

This is from the book The Doubter's Companion by John Ralston Saul:

The idea of unregulated warfare appeals to our foolish self-pride by suggesting that only a weakling, a coward or an incompetent could be afraid to come out from behind artificial protection in order to fight like a man. Of course only a fool rises to this kind of taunting...

History is filled with a long list of small armies and small nations who have risen to the taunts of large neighbors. The next recorded event is their destruction...

In short, the people who cry loudest for a level playing field fall into two categories: those who own the goalposts and fools.

The horrifying reality is that Greg Mankiw may actually believe that there's no reason for an economics graduate student to be worried about attaching their name to criticizing Larry Summers (and Greg Mankiw). How can anyone believe money and power have anything to do with what happens in academic economics? The only power that matters is the power of ideas. I mean, how else can you explain the fact that Greg Mankiw has an endowed chair at Harvard, one of the most left-wing institutions on the face of the earth?

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at December 21, 2009 02:30 PM

Kick 'em while they're young.

Also, I haven't had the pleasure of reading that Larry Summers blog, but even so, I'm willing to bet one (1) American dollar that Mankeew's "ad hominem" accusation is bogus. Also.

Posted by: laym at December 21, 2009 03:42 PM

Mankiw is completely right. Only a coward writes under a fake name.

Posted by: N E at December 21, 2009 03:51 PM

As for money and power having an effect in academic economics, I frankly would say that your conclusions seem exceedingly alarmist and make academic economics appear to be something straight out of Mao's China in terms of self-censorship.

I seriously do not think that whoever owns universities really cares about what kind of economic doctrine is taught in each, so long as any economic doctrine challenging the mainstream doesn't gain enough traction to topple it. How else does one explain that one of the top departments for heterodox and social justice economics in the USA is at the University of Utah? That's right, a well-known heterodox economics department in the state university of one of the reddest states in the USA. How does one explain that?

Posted by: En Ming Hee at December 22, 2009 04:14 AM

I have to side with "The Doubter's Companion."

Posted by: knowdoubt at December 22, 2009 06:41 AM

Larry Summers: i'm sure that blog must be written by a woman. why did we ever let them in to harvard?

Posted by: anon at December 22, 2009 09:00 AM

En Ming Hee

The post doesn't sound like Mao's China to me. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if there is more academic freedom at non-elite institutions even in the reddest of states. The US system is an open system, and even our elites prize that openness--but, and this is important, only within limits.

The model for control of academia used in the US comes from Britain, long before the Cold War, way back during WWI when Wilson commissioned the Inquiry, just before the CFR was created. Carroll Quigley wrote about the operation of the British model in The Anglo American Establishment, and when we started lending them money (oh so long ago) and stepping into their shoes, we adopted their imperial methods. Here, as in Britain, elite control is accomplished with a light touch, even a kind of invisible hand. With the creation of the National Security State and commencement of the Cold War, the hand remained invisible, but the touch didn't stay so light. Now it's heavier than ever, though no one recognizes the dead weight pressing down on them for what it is, because it's there with the constancy of gravity, so people mistake it for part of the natural world. It isn't.

You can go study heterodox economics at the University of Utah, and a young would-be economist blogging under his own name to attack Larry Summers would be well advised to make that choice, because he isn't going to get a highly-prized job at the Fed or at Yale or Harvard or Wharton and rise to the top of his profession, even if he's got the smarts of John Maynard Keynes, because smarts alone won't take you there.

But you're right, there's more room outside the mainstream in our society because it's an open society. It's possible to live and even flourish outside the mainstream. It just isn't possible to assume positions of sufficient power to change the course of events. Even, perhaps especially, when that change is necessary and overdue.

Posted by: N E at December 22, 2009 11:53 AM

Let's not forget Summers' role in dismantling the last few New Deal regs, such as the Glass-Steagal act (then, Bill Clinton signed off on that as well). One doesn't have to be an ivy league economist to understand what that was about--ie freeing up securities (ie mortgages) for the speculator's casino.

Kid Obama hired the people who brought us the lending crisis

Posted by: Perezoso at December 23, 2009 11:34 AM

The Corporations own our Universities.

We are now in the throes of a Dark Age of Continual Funding by the Big Science ventures. Their funding will definitely "encourage" a certain line of research.

Do you think that any one will find the causes of Breast Cancer to be the use of certain products, such as herbicides and insectidicides, at UC Berkeley, when that University was given 50 million bucks by Novartis?

I would say any sane person writing a blog that espouses other than Corporate praise should use a pseudonym to protect their identity.

Posted by: Elise Mattu at December 26, 2009 04:24 PM