Alternative Ec Course Wins Core Approval

A month after the economics department turned down his proposal to create an alternative to its popular introductory course, Barker Professor of Economics Stephen A. Marglin ’59 scored a partial victory yesterday when the Core Office said his class could satisfy its Social Analysis requirement.

Marglin drafted the proposal for the new course earlier this spring out of a desire to offer students what he said would be a more critical and less partisan alternative to Social Analysis 10, “Principles of Economics” (Ec 10).

“I expect this to be a course that teaches people to think critically as economists and to think critically about the assumptions of economics,” he said.

Marglin said yesterday he was not sure whether his course would draw potential students away from Ec 10.

“It’s hard to predict how many people will take the class,” he said. “I rather doubt that it will affect Ec 10 at all.”

In early March, members of Students for Humane And Responsible Economics (SHARE) organized a petition saying that Ec 10 fails to stimulate critical thinking about economics or present a diversity of perspectives within the discipline.

But other students organized a counter-petition to defend the class. They also argued that creating a alternative class would divide students along ideological lines.

Marglin said that although he is happy that the Core Committee approved his proposal, he was disappointed because had set out to create a critical introductory course within the department.

Though the new course can be counted for both Core credit and the economics requirement for social studies concentrators, it cannot be substituted by economics concentrators for their introductory course.

“I’m very glad [the glass] is half-full but I’m sad it is half-empty,” said Marglin.

The new course will go by the name of “Economics: A Critical Approach.”

Marglin will lecture twice a week and a weekly section will also be arranged.

“I expect there to be some back and forth even in lecture,” he said.

The one semester course will be offered in the fall.

Daniel A. Michalow ’03 opposed the plan to create a course that would substitute for the first semester of Ec 10 and was involved in the counter-petition. Though he said he feels Feldstein does a good job of balancing the concepts presented in his course, he does not oppose Marglin’s new class.

“It is a more reasonable approach,” he said.

Jessica M. Marglin ’06, a member of SHARE and Professor Marglin’s daughter, said she was pleased by the Core Office's decision.

“We are thrilled,” she said. “We would have preferred the course to be a substitute for the first semester of Ec 10, but we are happy that it will count for the Core. It will reach a broad audience.”

Marglin said that students should not be concerned that his course will diminish the value of economics as a discipline.

“The course will not teach people that economics is flawed and wrong,” he said. “It will teach people about the strengths and limitations of economics.”

Marglin said that he expects his class to be tougher than Ec 10.

“I think that Ec 10 is not a very challenging course by Harvard standards,” he said.

Marglin said he felt the benefits students will reap from the new course will be worth the extra work.

“You have to learn a fair amount of economics as you examine the assumptions of economics,” said Marglin. “It will cover a lot but I hope the experience rewards the effort.”

“It will be a challenging course for me, the students and the teaching fellows,” Marglin said.

—Staff writer Yailett Fernandez can be reached at yfernand@fas.harvard.edu.