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Econ: Number Crunching
Do college intro-economics courses need a ‘more balanced perspective’?

Article reprinted from Newsweek, March 24, 2003

When protest groups have economists on their side, numbers carry a lot of clout. At Harvard, a determined band of students has petitioned to diversify the core curriculum taught by former Reagan economics czar Martin Feldstein. Already 600 undergrads have signed, arguing that rival professor Stephen Marglin should teach an alternative class that provides the college’s 800 intro-to-econ students with a “more balanced perspective.” The department votes in April.

The debate is not just raging in Cambridge, where students are famous for tussling with administrators. Neva Goodwin, a Tufts scholar, is working on a Houghton Mifflin-commissioned basic-econ text that will include feminist and ecological points of view while questioning the assumptions of neoclassical econ. “One chair at another university said to me, ‘Our students hate us’,” Goodwin said when asked why she’s writing the book. Goodwin’s tome won’t hit stores for months, but has generated so much buzz that she regularly receives e-mails from profs around the country begging to borrow chapters.

There’s even a controversy brewing in South Bend. A proposed split of the Notre Dame econ department has caused an uproar because the Roman Catholic university has long been a bastion of social-justice economics, and the long-dominant Marxists fear being marginalized. After Wednesday’s vote, either Adam Smith or Karl Marx will likely be rolling in his grave.
—Suzanne Smalley

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