Concerns about the impact of growing economic inequality fit neatly into a larger critique of mainstream economic theory and its deep faith in the efficiency of markets.
Many unbelievers (including me) insist that we inhabit a global capitalist system rather than an efficient market. Willingness to use the C-word (capitalism) often signals concerns about a concentration of economic power that unfairly limits individual choices, undermines political democracy, generates financial and ecological crises and limits access to alternative economic ideas.
We can’t address these concerns effectively without a wider discussion of them.
Seventy Harvard students dramatized dissatisfaction with the economics profession when they walked out of Prof. Gregory Mankiw’s introductory economics class on Nov. 2, protesting, in an open letter to their instructor, that the course “espouses a specific — and limited — view of economics that we believe perpetuates problematic and inefficient systems of economic inequality in our society today.” (Professor Mankiw, a periodic contributor to the Economic View column in the Sunday Business section of The New York Times, discussed the protest in an interview with National Public Radio.)
The event prompted online discussion of conservative bias in introductory economics textbooks, including an anti-Mankiw blog set up by Daniel MacDonald, a graduate student in my own department. Prof. John Davis of the University of Amsterdam and Marquette University posted a video arguing that economic researchers, like fish, engage in herd behavior in order to minimize individual risk.
Similar themes were explored at the recent meetings of the International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics, a forum for a remarkable variety of dissenting views deploying the C-word. I participated in a session discussing blogs maintained by David Ruccio of Notre Dame, Perry Mehrling of Barnard College, Tiago Mata of Duke University and Tim Wise of Tufts University, as well as an independent blogger, Peter Radford.
At the final plenary session of the conference, titled “Ethics and Economics,” participants discussed an “Economists’ Statement” in support of Occupy Wall Street that has been posted online at Econ4, a new site aimed at popular economics education. As of Nov. 27, the statement had gotten more than 220 signatures.
In other words, let’s talk about Capitalism again as some economists begin to unite with OWS under the “this sucks and we need to rethink some things” flag. Read The NYT blog post here.