Petition Argues For Alternative To Ec 10 Course

Marglin would offer ‘balanced’ version of Feldstein’s intro course

Nearly 200 students signed an online petition this weekend to support a “more balanced alternative” to Social Analysis 10, the introduction to economics course offered by Baker Professor of Economics Martin S. Feldstein.

Students for a Humane And Responsible Economics (SHARE) posted the petition on the Web to support Barker Professor of Economics Stephen A. Marglin’s proposal for an alternative to the first semester of the popular Core, colloquially known as “Ec 10.” The proposed course would cover the same material, but with a different emphasis.

“I’d use basically the same materials. The articles in the sourcebook are somewhat biased, however, and they’d be dropped and replaced with other readings. About 1/4 of the course would be devoted to critiquing the assumptions of economics,” he said, adding that lectures with weekly sections for discussion would replace the section-based teaching of Ec 10.

“The course is not intended to demolish Ec 10,” said Marglin. “It’s an alternative for those who want to work harder and who want a more balanced perspective of views than Ec 10 offers.”

Marglin’s alternative won’t turn up in the catalogue any time soon; first it must be approved by the economics department and accepted as a Core, he said.

Petition author Michael Y. Lee ’03 said the effort is a response to fears that Marglin won’t be successful in getting his course introduced.

“There’s a good chance that it won’t be approved, and we want to make the department aware that there is a strong student demand for an alternative intro economics course,” he said. “The free market principles that economists worship should also apply to these courses to a certain degree, and right now Ec 10 holds a monopoly on intro courses.”

SHARE was revived this year, after a lapse in interest, by a group of students that includes Marglin’s daughter, Jessica M. Marglin ’06.

It seeks to diversify the economics curriculum, said active member Daniel DiMaggio ’04.

“Ec 10 is fairly ideological, if not completely ideological. We’ve been leafleting it with articles that have a different perspective, but we’ve been hoping that something like this [Margin’s proposed course] would come along,” he said. “We’ve had a pretty amazing level of response so far. I’ve been pretty excited about the number of people who have signed.”

At a study break in Quincy House last month, University President Lawrence H. Summers was asked by former President of the College Democrats Sonia H. Kastner ’03 what he thought about Feldstein’s intro economics course.

The question referenced a recent debate among Feldstein, Marglin and Dani Rodrik, professor of international political economy at the Kennedy School, over the question of whether political bias is a factor in teaching economics.

Summers said that while he had not sat in on an Ec 10 lecture, he had reviewed the course’s reading list and found it offered “a fairly broad set of perspectives.”

“I certainly don’t agree with quite a number of Marty Feldstein’s policy views,” Summers said. “It’s important to recognize that economics does bring a certain individual perspective to understanding social phenomena.”

But Summers qualified his remarks by saying, “It’s not for the president of the University to review what is taught in courses.”

And even if political affiliation does affect the way one teaches a subject, Summers said, “I think it’s probably the case that Professor Feldstein’s views are closer to the center than certainly Professor Marglin’s and probably Professor Rodrik’s.”

Benjamin B. Collins ’06, one of the first students to sign the petition, said his primary frustration was not Ec 10’s supposed ideological spin.

“My main concern with Ec 10 is not so much its bias, but the fact that nobody seems to care. Marty’s apathy trickles down; TFs just read off the printout lesson plans, students just copy down what’s on the board in section,” he said. “What excites me about this new class is that Prof. Marglin seems to be really interested in building and teaching a new course that will force students to learn actively.”

“If he succeeds in getting students engaged and thinking critically about not only mainstream economic theory itself, but about the philosophy and history of economics, the problem of bias will fix itself, because students will be forced to think for themselves about economics,” he said.

“If there weren’t student interest, I wouldn’t want to offer the course,” said Marglin, who noted that his proposal stems from many comments from juniors in his Social Studies tutorials frustrated with Feldstein’s class. “There would be no student interest if everything were hunky dory with Ec 10.”

Feldstein was traveling and not available for comment.