Tenure for Bowles
Sam Bowles won't be at Harvard next year, and that will be Harvard's loss. The Economics Department's decision not to give him tenure is effectively a decision to ignore one of the important thrusts of modern economics on the shaky grounds that it is "beyond our boundaries."
Radical economics is not merely a tangential approach to the discipline. The "radical school" is a group of economists emphasizing Marx's social and political theories, and questioning the underlying assumptions and central institutions of classical economics. Sam Bowles is widely acknowledged to be one of the most prominent of the radicals. The decision not to grant him tenure is no reflection on his capabilities, but only demonstrates the unwillingness of senior faculty members to give radical economists the best possible representation at Harvard.
In fact, this decision casts doubts on the validity of the Economics Department's judgements of the academic merits of Arthur MacEwan, Thomas Weisskopf and Herbert M. Gintis, all previously denied appointments in the Department. Dangling Herb Gintis on the promotional ladder for another four years is hardly an adequate substitution for a tenured appointment.
Simply put, the Economics Department's senior faculty does not regard radical economics as a substantial field. Although senior faculty members admit that the radicals ask important questions about the capitalist system, they argue that these questions are unanswerable and outside the scope of conventional economics. Some, but not all, of the Department's senior faculty members feel that economists must focus exclusively on questions of economic performance and leave questions about the socio-political context in which economic activity takes place entirely to sociologists and political scientists.
Excluding these questions from the field of economics--supposedly for the sake of academic rigor--leaves some important questions about the capitalist system unanswered. At best it seems somewhat silly, and at worst, it is suspicious ideologically to discourage an approach--in this case an anti-capitalist one--merely because so far it has not answered the important questions it has asked.
Historically, there has been an unmistakable trend towards academic specialization at the cost of understanding. Admittedly, this academic division of labor has permitted rapid progress along narrow lines of inquiry, but this progress has served the system rather than people in the system who seek a greater understanding of the direction of modern society. Radical economics is an attempt, though not the only possible one, to provide such a general understanding. Harvard lost an excellent opportunity to encourage this attempt when it denied tenure to Sam Bowles.