Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Response to an Intellectually Abused College Student

By Walter E. Block

A young man wrote me stating that he had given a presentation of Henry Hazlitt’s book Economics in One Lesson for a college class assignment, and his teacher gave him a very poor mark. These were her words:

“Author discredited, has no formal education in economics. Not a best seller. Not current. 72% match. The study of macroeconomics is not haunted by fallacies nor does it focus on the short-term. Macroeconomics guides government policy decisions for ALL parties within a marketplace, evaluating the effects of supply, demand, output, pricing, and other variables amongst all constituents in an economy.”

This student asked me how he could get a better grade. Here was my four part response to him:

1. Ingratiate

If you want to get a better mark from this invincibly ignorant person, I suggest you get (back?) into the closet. Free enterprise views are obviously not acceptable to this ignoramus. For your next assignment: pick a lousy book she will like, e.g., something written by John Kenneth Galbraith, and praise it to the skies. Better yet, choose Thomas Piketty’s recent book, he is more “current,” although this teacher would never in a million years upbraid you for choosing a non-current book by Galbraith. And tell her, if you can bear this degree of sucking up, that you owe it all to her that you now see economics in a better socialist light than before. Maybe, better yet, present again Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, one of the most magnificent books in economics ever written. Only this time, attack it, along the lines she herself mentions! This book will still not be “current” but she will LOVE your critical presentation of it.

2. Fallacy

On the other hand, if you want to get to the truth, if you want to try to educate her, you might tell her she is guilty of a basic fallacy in logic, the ad hominem. Just because Hazlitt has no formal credentials in economics does not render his views fallacious or superficial. There are other highly respected economists, in the modern era, who do not have a PhD in economics: David Friedman (physics PhD), Henry Manne (law degree), Gordon Tullock (law degree). Gary Becker wrote a lot about sociology, but his PhD was in economics. Several non economists actually won Nobel Prizes in economics, several with degrees in psychology. Nobel Prize Winner Elinor Ostrom’s PhD degree was in political science, not economics. Many economists in history had no formal training in this subject. This disproves their views? Then, on matters of substance, ask her to give you some cites to buttress her fallacious claims. As for not being current, nor on the New York Times best seller list, this applies, too, to the two greatest books on economics ever written: Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action and Murray Rothbard’s Man, Economy and State. Tell her that Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, although not “current” was indeed a best seller for many years, and still is, even though first published in 1957. Does this professor of yours therefore support the message of that book?

Further, mainstream neo classical macroeconomics is indeed haunted by fallacies. Two of the best books that demonstrate this are these:

Hazlitt, Henry. 2007 [1959]. The Failure of the “New Economics.” Auburn, AL: Mises Institute
Hazlitt, Henry, ed. 1983. The Critics of Keynesian Economics New York: New York University Press
Neither are exactly “current.” However, the first of these is a page by page, no, paragraph by paragraph, no, line by line, and sometimes word by word refutation of one of her undoubtedly favorite books (even though, it, too, is not exactly “current”). Ask her, also, if any of her books have been published by those that published Hazlitt.

Tell her that her treatment of you was shameful. Inexcusable.

3. Justice

If you want to be nasty, tell her you do not think women should be even allowed to take economics courses, let alone teach them. That will get her to sit up and take notice. It will also get you kicked out of school for committing a micro aggression, and maybe even arrested for “hate speech” so I really don’t recommend it. But it would be so much FUN! And, she will so richly deserve the back of your hand in this manner. Hey, wait; accuse her of committing a micro aggression against you. It would be great to see her hoist by her own petard. Of course, this will not work (you are male, she is female, so, obviously, only you can be guilty, not her), but, it, too, will be enjoyable.

4. My background

I guess the reason I am being a bit vehement about the treatment accorded you is because I, too, was victimized by this sort of thing when I was a student. As a professor, I swore a solemn oath that I would never treat my students in this horrid way. I have co authored in refereed journals almost 100 student term papers of mine. I am most proud of the fact that some half dozen of these publications were direct attacks on me. They were well written. Their authors all earned A’s in my class. Of course, I could not co author them, but I helped polish them, edit them, add bibliography to them, and shepherded them through the arduous publication process.

I have got another suggestion for you: transfer to Loyola University New Orleans. I guarantee you will not be mistreated in any such manner by me or my three fellow Austro-libertarian colleagues. Yes, our entire department is oriented in this direction.

The above originally appeared at Lew

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