Students demand real education

Submitted by martin on 6 November, 2011 - 6:39

Greg Mankiw is one of the world's most famous mainstream economists, author of two widely-used textbooks which have gone into many editions, a former economic adviser for George W Bush and now an adviser for Mitt Romney.

He is a professor at Harvard University, and gives the university's "Economics 10" introductory lecture course on economics.

On 2 November 70 of his students walked out of his lecture in protest at his "bias" and in solidarity with the "Occupy" movement.

In an open letter, they declare that: "we found a course that espouses a specific — and limited — view of economics that we believe perpetuates problematic and inefficient systems of economic inequality in our society today".

The battle for a critical approach in the social sciences is inseparable from the struggle on the streets and in the workplaces. Let's hope the Harvard students inspire many others.

Gabriel Bayard and Rachel Sandalow-Ash, two Harvard students involved in the walkout, spoke to Solidarity:

On Wednesday 2 November there was a citywide education walkout in Boston against rising costs of education.

Student debt has just exceeded $1 trillion in the US which is more than credit card debt.

We walked out of our course (Economics 10) because we found it was emblematic of the ideology that has created the economic collapse. Our tutor Gregory Mankiw was an advisor to Bush Junior and now advises Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Republican administrations are known for cutting taxes on the wealthy while not doing anything for the poor and the financial crisis took place at the end of the Bush administration. It was a result of 30 years of deregulation of the financial markets and rising income inequality with cuts to social services and tax breaks for the very rich starting with Reagan.

Harvard has historically been a training ground for people who go on to be the elite. Harvard grads become very important people who go on to do very bad things to our financial system.

Mankiw teaches us from his own textbook and doesn’t use other journal articles. So we don’t see other perspectives or rigorous debate. So it would be good to bring in a greater diversity of reading and views.

We wanted to walk out and raise the debate, to communicate to students that a lot of what we are talk it not related to what’s going on in the world. Instead of taking what our professor says for granted we should think critically.

We’re not opposed to Mankiw teaching his point of view at Harvard. But he teaches only his point of view to introductory economics classes of over 700 students a year.

Next steps

We plan an Occupy Harvard rally and march around Harvard yard. We will be stopping in front of the Economics department and doing a protest there.

We are pushing against the corporatization of Harvard as a whole. We are pushing for Harvard to treat its workers and use it’s $32 billion endowment in a socially responsible way.

Harvard has a responsibility to use it money to create a university for the 99% and not a corporation for the 1%. They outsource their money to hedge funds, one of which has been grabbing up land in Africa in the hope of gaining natural resources. It’s a non-transparent process. There is another venture capital firm that purchases hotels around the US, with a proven track record of mistreating staff, several of their hotels have gone on strike.

A “university for the 99%” would be transparent in its endowment, invest in a responsible manner, be fair with its unions, it would teach its courses in a way that promotes critical thinking and doesn’t just teach people to accept the way that financial systems and the world is currently run; it would encourage access to education for students of any background; it would not lobby against the Higher Education Transparency Act which would oblige them to disclose what they do with their money.

The student movement has been active in the occupy movement. The main issues in the student movement are cuts to public universities around the country which have resulted in increased cost of living and health and decreased financial aid. It’s tied in with issues of equality.

There has a march in solidarity with Occupy Oakland.

Gabriel: I don’t know if the occupy movement’s vagueness is a weakness or a strength, I think it’s both. If I were to set up a list of demands, I would headline socialization of our healthcare system. I think that regulation of the financial markets is necessary to prevent speculation on people’s homes and lives; and I think that taxes should be raised on the 1% and we should be investing more money in education and less money in wars.

Rachel: We have pretty low taxation rate on the highest marginal income brackets, I think it’s now around 35%. Directly after World War Two the tax rate for the highest income bracket was 70-80% and at one point went up to 94%. Reagan cut the top tax rate significantly but it hasn’t produced large gains for the American middle class.
Corporate influence is a major problem in the US and there should be steps taken to limit that.

Politicians talk about cutting taxes because that sounds good and then they’ll say, “oh no we have a budget crisis, we have to cut social services”. They create budget crises and resolve them by cutting social services for the elderly and the poor.

Rachel: There should be more investment in green jobs, education, socialised healthcare; raising the capital gains taxed which is only at 15% which is significantly lower than the tax on a lot of other people; we should create jobs.

I would like to see politicians start reacting more concretely to the Occupy movement.

I know a lot of progressives and leftists who view the UK as a model for how we get to higher amounts of socialising public services, and getting greater equality of opportunity.

I think that social democracy is alive and well in the UK and Europe. Occupy movement activists support the labour movements and student movements in the UK and we need to bridge these gaps between countries.

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