News Flash: Harvard Has no Access to the Web and No Libraries

Last Wednesday, Greg Mankiw blogged about the students who walked out of his Ec10 class. They have various complaints about it that you can read here.

One student, Jeremy Patashnik, gave an excellent defense of Mankiw’s Ec10 class, pointing out just how broad are the perspectives that Mankiw gives. Patashnik was a little off when he wrote:

His [Mankiw’s] second lecture went into more detail about what economics is and a major part of this lecture consisted of reasons why economists are not anarchists, among those reasons: dealing with poverty, market power, externalities, and regulating the business cycle.

Patashnik should have said that those are reasons why many economists are not anarchists. He made it sound as if there are no such beings as anarchist economists. That leaves out David Friedman, among others. There are anarchist economists and many of them believe that voluntary interaction would handle all those problems better than government does. So, if Greg Mankiw doesn’t at least point out that there are such economists, even if he doesn’t have time to deal with them, then that is a lack. But Greg might have simply said that these are his, and most of his Harvard colleagues’ reasons for not being anarchists. So let’s cut both Greg Mankiw and Jeremy Patashnik some slack.

Patashnik’s strongest point, I thought, was this statement:

But perhaps what is most objectionable about this walkout is that students should not be opposed to being exposed to ideas that might conflict with their prior held beliefs.

Exactly. My disappointment was that he didn’t go where I thought he would go next. I thought he should have gone after this statement from the protestors:

As your class does not include primary sources and rarely features articles from academic journals, we have very little access to alternative approaches to economics.

The only way they have “very little access to alternative approaches to economics” is if they don’t have the web and they don’t have libraries. Is Harvard lacking in those? I think not.

I became a libertarian early in my time in college. None of my social science or humanities professors was a libertarian and virtually all, with one exception, were social democrats. The exception was economist Sylvester Damus, a free-market University of Chicago grad, but the problem is that I knew him only as the faculty adviser to our libertarian club. He taught only advanced undergrad econ courses and I was a math major. In my philosophy classes, we never took readings by John Hospers or Ayn Rand. In my one economics class, Milton Friedman’s name wasn’t mentioned, nor Schumpeter’s, nor Hayek’s. Was that frustrating? Sure. But it never would have occurred to me to claim that I didn’t have access to alternate viewpoints. Even in those days, the University of Winnipeg had what was, to me, a half-decent library. Protesting is one thing, but those Harvard protestors who walked out of Greg Mankiw’s class have to be some of the laziest protestors around.

Update: In the comments below, commenter Joey notices something I missed. It’s an even more fundamental criticism of the protestors’ thinking than mine.