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Balancing the Books

An alternative to the much-bemoaned Ec 10 would benefit all economics interested students

By The CRIMSON Staff

For decades, the gleam of polished wood has welcomed hundreds of first-years to Sanders Theater—and their first day of Social Analysis 10. Many students are dissatisfied with the course—26 percent of those who wrote written responses for the CUE Guide believe the course has a conservative bias, according to the Guide’s 2002-2003 edition. But hundreds continue to pack Sanders’ pews to hear Baker Professor of Economics Martin S. Feldstein ’61 give his lectures on introductory economics—possibly because they have no other option.

Students for a Humane and Responsible Economics, an undergraduate organization that has challenged Feldstein and his curriculum since 1996, has posted a petition on the web supporting an alternative to Ec 10. More than 450 people have signed on. Barker Professor of Economics Stephen A. Marglin ’59 would teach the class, and offer a more critical view of economics’ basic principles. Marglin plans to cover the basic economic principles that are taught in Ec 10, but about one-fourth of the course would aid students in critically assessing neoclassical economic wisdom.

An alternative Ec 10 should not be an excuse for left-leaning students to ignore the Feldstein brand of conservative economics. Any new introductory economics class should be academically rigorous, well-taught and should cover the core of conventional economic thinking that Ec 10 does. Its professor should also eschew political bias in the lecture hall—having two biased courses in the place of one does not serve the needs of students. But if Marglin can meet the criteria to lead such a course, there is no reason not to give unhappy first-years a choice between Ec 10, which hundreds of undergraduates find too politicized, and Marglin’s alternative course. There is also no reason such a class should not count for the Core.

If anything, an alternative class will compel Feldstein to add more balance to his curriculum. He could replace classes and reading units that give leftist economists only token representation, such as in his lecture on Social Security reform, with a more pluralist presentation of economic principles and their application. More competition might even get him to finally hold office hours.

But the College needs to do more than just break Feldstein’s monopoly on introductory economics. Ec 10 should be split in two, so students can opt out of taking a semester of introductory economics and still receive Core credit. First-years should not have to be locked into a year-long course they hate to fulfill their Core requirement. Not everyone enrolled in Ec 10 needs to take both micro- and macroeconomics, and students should not have to do so for the sake of the Core.

Harvard’s introductory economics course has turned off would-be economics concentrators for too long. The Department of Economics and the College cannot just ignore the hundreds of people begging for a change. Giving students a choice between introductory economics classes can only improve the education available to all undergraduates.

Dissent: Change From Within

The staff is exaggerating the conservative bias of Ec 10. This year alone, guest lecturers included Ascherman Professor or Economics Richard S. Freeman, University President Lawrence H. Summers, David Elwood, and Michael R. Kremer—none of whom, certainly, are considered conservative economists.

Offering another introductory economics course is irresponsible, as it fails to address what people perceive to be the root of the problem. If the Harvard community is concerned that Baker Professor of Economics Martin S. Feldstein ’61 is neglecting to teach mainstream economic views in Ec 10, then the issue should be resolved by modifying the class—not by creating an alternative course. By just creating another introductory course to cater to the political leanings of students, we resolve nothing.

—Lia C. Larson ’05

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