Monday, March 18, 2019

Harvard Prof Smacks The New York Times

Greg Mankiw
Harvard professor and big-time economics textbook author Greg Mankiw is out with a new essay, Reflections of a Textbook Author.

In the piece, he claims his textbooks are fair and balanced:
I try my best to present both sides fairly, and I avoid revealing my own views (though I am surely imperfect in this endeavor). For example, the last chapter of my principles text considers six debates over macroeconomic policy. For each issue, I present brief essays both pro and con, trying to argue each side with the verve that its advocates would muster. 

I own his fifth edition of Principles of Macroeconomics and the seventh edition.

The "six debates" do not include the Austrian school position that central bank money manipulation distorts the structure of the economy. His "six debates" are all just different versions of Keynesianism. It's debate inside the money printing choir.

Not once are Austrian school economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek mentioned in the texts. But the names of John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman are sprinkled throughout both editions like dinosaur coprolite in Cambridgeshire.

And, keep in mind, that Hayek was awarded the Noble Prize for his work in business cycle theory.

That said, Mankiw does entertain a bit in the essay when he attempts to justify the high price his textbooks are offered at. "[T]he complete, hardcover version of my principles book is $249.95," he says. He thinks it is justified and does a decent smackdown of The New York Times when the rag attacks the high price of textbooks:
[T]he perception that publishers are unjustly enriching themselves at students’ expense is common. In an editorial on April 25, 2008, The New York Times said that college students are “rightly outraged” about textbook prices and called for reform, including legislation to regulate various industry practices. The paper’s reaction seemed odd to me. After all, the Times is a for-profit company in the business of providing information. If it really thought that some type of information (e.g., textbooks) was vastly overpriced, wouldn't the Times view this as
a great business opportunity? Instead of merely editorializing, why not enter the market and offer a better product at a lower price? The Times knows how to hire writers, editors, printers, and so on. There are no barriers to entry in the textbook market, and the Times has the advantage of a good brand name. My guess is that the Times business managers would not view starting a new textbook publisher as an exceptionally profitable venture, undermining the premise of its
editorial writers. In any event, since calling attention to the high prices, the Times has not entered the textbook market. 
Of course, value is subjective. As a tool to use in teaching an introductory course in economics (at Harvard or elsewhere), Mankiw's texts are pretty useless. But used as a punching bag to explain what is wrong with mainstream economics, I am getting my money's worth. See, for example, Problems With Bryan Caplan's "Why I'm Not an Austrian Economist": Caplan Supports Laughable Indifference Curve Theory Part 3 

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank and most recently Foundations of Private Property Society Theory: Anarchism for the Civilized Person Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Robert Wenzel Talks Economics. More about Wenzel here.

1 comment:

  1. Bill Gates says that tetbooks are finally becoming obsolete - have to agree!