Friday, November 30, 2007


When I was an undergraduate learning basic economics from Paul Samuelson's classic textbook, I ran across a book by Marc Linder called Anti-Samuelson. Linder's book was a leftist critique of Samuelson's presentation of the field.

Samuelson was the ostensible target of the attack, but as the author of the leading economics textbook, he was really only a proxy. Linder's actual target, it seemed to me, was the mainstream of the economics profession and the way almost all economists teach undergraduates. He thought we economists preached too much reverence for market mechanisms. (Linder is now a law professor: On his webpage, he sports a t-shirt that says "people before profits.")

I now know how Paul must have felt when Linder's book came out. A friend recently called to my attention an article called Economic Indoctrination, which takes a similar approach to my principles text. The author, a cofounder of the "post-autistic economics movement," tries to portray my book as right-wing propaganda.

This is not the first time my text has been criticized for being biased. When President Bush appointed me to be CEA chair, some members of the political right opposed the nomination because my textbook was too Keynesian and not sufficiently sympathetic to their supply-side views. I suppose the symmetry in the attacks suggests I am getting things about right.

When I teach introductory economics, either in the classroom or in my textbook, I view myself as an ambassador for the economics profession. I try to represent the economic mainstream, not my personal political views. Some students may view the economic mainstream as right of center. That assessment is probably correct, at least as judged by the universe of college professors. But the job of an introductory course is to present, as honestly as possible, the consensus of the profession. If the typical economist is more market-friendly than the typical literature professor, then that point of view will likely be reflected in the leading textbooks.

I was most surprised to read that the author of this critique was once a member of the army of teaching fellows I oversee in ec 10. I wish he had come to talk with me about his views while he was involved in the course. I have long been intrigued by the post-autistic economics movement. A conversation on the topic would have been edifying for both of us.