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The College’s most popular course, Economics 10: “Principles of Economics,” is changing hands. Last week, Kennedy School professor and former Obama economic advisor Jason Furman ’92 and Economics professor David I. Laibson ’88 announced they will jointly take over teaching duties for the Economics Department’s flagship course this fall, in the wake of Economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw’s decision to step down from the course after 14 years.
As they look to start this new chapter for Ec 10, we believe Furman and Laibson have an opportunity and an obligation to change the direction and reputation of the course for the better. While remaining a popular and iconic class at the College, students have expressed specific concerns relative to affordability, the outsize role of graduate students in teaching the course, and ideological rigidity. These concerns seem to be indicative of a more broadly felt negative attitude toward the course. Spring and fall 2018 Q Guide scores showed under 40 percent of students enrolled in Ec10 would “likely” recommend it, and less than 10 percent “with enthusiasm.” We hope Laibson and Furman will think about why and how Ec 10 has developed this image and adjust the course to address those concerns.
Economics as a discipline and a way of understanding the world can be useful for students in a variety of disciplines outside of the Economics Department, as Laibson himself has pointed out, Given that Ec 10 is its sole introductory course, it must be accessible to non-concentrators while serving as a rigorous introduction to prepare prospective economics concentrators to engage with the material at a high level of theoretical proficiency. As long as Ec 10 serves this dual purpose, it is imperative that the reformed course honors the needs of both groups.
Yet catering to concentrators and non-concentrators alike may prove difficult. To address this problem in the future, we suggest the Economics Department consider stratifying its introductory courses by varying levels of rigor and abstraction in a manner analogous to those offered by the Mathematics Department. The department could offer one course more unapologetically theoretical to prepare concentrators for higher level coursework, and another that offers non-concentrators an economic framework valuable for work in other disciplines.
However, absent such a change, Laibson and Furman can still do meaningful work to improve the quality of Ec 10. Laibson contends that the field of economics is not just about “finance and consulting,” but also about “inequality” and “discrimination,” and we hope that he and Furman will honor their stated commitment to applying economics in the context of these real world issues as they redesign the course. We also hope they consider structural concerns in addition to content. As we have previously opined, the prohibitive price of the Ec 10 textbook, authored by Mankiw himself, poses a barrier to low-income students who may wish to enroll in the class. We encourage Furman and Laibson to address this issue.
We see this transition as a huge opportunity to reform and improve Ec 10. Furman and Laibson have an opportunity to touch the academic lives of thousands of students over the coming years. A generation of Harvard students could have their thinking on questions of fairness, economic justice, inequality, and countless other issues shaped in part by this course. That is a tremendous responsibility for Furman and Laibson to shoulder. We wish them the best of luck.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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