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Rage of the privileged classroom

A group of Harvard undergraduates have staged a walkout of economics professor Greg Mankiw’s class, in solidarity with the Occupy movement. According to their statement [1], they know better than Mankiw what ought to be taught in an introductory economics course:

We are walking out today to join a Boston-wide march protesting the corporatization of higher education as part of the global Occupy movement. Since the biased nature of Economics 10 contributes to and symbolizes the increasing economic inequality in America, we are walking out of your class today both to protest your inadequate discussion of basic economic theory and to lend our support to a movement that is changing American discourse on economic injustice. Professor Mankiw, we ask that you take our concerns and our walk-out seriously.

I hope he does too. In fact, I hope he flunks them. We’ll see then how devoted they are to civil disobedience. I bet they’ll come back crying, begging the professor not to do anything that hurts their precious GPA. Reminds me of that passage from liberal Episcopal priest Chloe Breyer’s memoir of her seminary education in which she gets arrested with other Episcopal clerics at a pro-abortion rally, and complains about the lack of seat belts in the paddy wagon, and also frets that one priest arrested with her had tickets to the theater that night and no doubt hadn’t counted on having to miss the show.

This Harvard stunt just childish and stupid. I’m all for these privileged students coming to realize their own responsibilities to the broader society, especially given what’s happening now with Wall Street and the recklessness of financial elites (many of them Ivy grads). But walking out of a class to protest the way the professor teaches it is tantrummy silliness (I doubt very much they would be complaining about the lack of intellectual diversity in the class if the teacher were a doctrinaire Marxist who followed an exclusivist pedagogy instead of a former Bush administration official). Megan McArdle’s Twitter feed [2]has been good on this topic. Examples:

Harvard students show their committment to OWS by skipping a class they don’t like. Brilliant.

But as a former Ivy League protester, I find it esp grating when future elite “does something” about inequality by cutting.

If Ivy Leaguers want rad econ change, drop out, work at Wal-Mart, & give ur place to kid from Fayetteville or Watts. Otherwise, go to class

Well said. Fatuous Ivy League twits.

25 Comments (Open | Close)

25 Comments To "Rage of the privileged classroom"

#1 Comment By PM On November 3, 2011 @ 11:21 am

The rub is that the reason they’re protesting Mankiw is that, possibly even more so than the financiers, it’s been the orthodox (with a small O) economists who got us unto this mess in the first place. It’s like Dorothy Day’s observation that a good society makes it easy for people to be good, only the architecture designed by orthodox economics has made it easy for people to be bad.

#2 Comment By Dmitri Aleksandrovich On November 3, 2011 @ 11:37 am

The ironic thing is that the parents of these ivy league brats are probably at least partially responsible for the fleecing of this nation and the klepto-corporatocracy that the OWS movement is supposed to be against. I have no doubt that if these would be revolutionary brats ever succeeded that they would place themselves in lead positions in the revolutionary government and again exploit and oppress the average worker just as their parents have done.

This is why economically I prefer a gentlemen’s agreement between business and labor for the good of all. The business class can make all the money they want as long as they provide for the the general welfare of their workers. That means collective bargaining, that means a living wage, that means health care and that means allowing the working class true representation in government and an equal voice. That means taking the corporate money out of the political process and adopting a policy of economic nationalism (like what Pat Buchanan calls for).

#3 Comment By HT On November 3, 2011 @ 11:52 am

I hold no brief for these Ivy League twits, but the economics profession needs some serious twitting from someone. Did you see the interviews with the famous econophilosophes in the film Inside Job (the best part of it)? The irony of their righteous disavowal of any conflict of interest in their own “research” results while holding seats on corporate boards and positions in The American Generic Rightwing Thinktank, in a field which pretends to be a *science of incentives*, was breathtaking.

#4 Comment By Yair On November 3, 2011 @ 11:56 am

Hey, don’t let a publicity stunt by a tiny fraction of Harvard’s largest class characterize the rest of us. It’s worth linking to both The Crimson editorial board’s [3]–aptly entitled “Stay in School”–and the detailed, nuanced take-down of the stunt by a liberal contributor over at the [4]. We should all be careful not to tar the many at Harvard –liberal, conservative and otherwise–with the radical actions of a fringe few.

(It’s also worth reviewing Ross Douthat’s helpful breakdown of Harvard campus politics in his memoir “Privilege” – specifically the difference between the conservatives and “parlor liberals” and the fringe “street liberals” like these.)

#5 Comment By Lord Karth On November 3, 2011 @ 11:56 am

I hope Prof. Mankiw flunks them as well.

I will not, however, take the other end of your bet, Mr. Dreher. I suspect that I’d do my money cold.

If these “children of privilege” are so obsessed with “doing something” about the problem, then perhaps they should pool their resources, start up a business and actually hire some of the 22.6 % of the population that is un/underemployed.

That would be “Direct Action !” at its very best.

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#6 Comment By Aaron Hinkley On November 3, 2011 @ 12:30 pm

I agree that it is a pointless stunt by a bunch of future elites pretending to be in solidarity with the working class. I very much appreciated the Marxist perspective on the OWS movement that was posted on your blog the other day where the point was that the OWS movement is a revolt within the class of elites by less well off elites against more powerful elites as opposed to a movement of the poor and working class.

However, that being said, economics as an academic discipline is in many ways responsible for, or at the very least complicit in, the economic situation we find ourselves in today. The policies promoted by economists contributed to the massive real estate bubble and of course helped to create a regulatory environment where in worthless mortgage backed securities were traded. Moreover, economics as an academic discipline serves as an ideological justification for the economic inequalities and social stratification that disadvantage the poor and working class.

However, all of these points might matter more if they were not coming from spoiled elites worried that they won’t have as much money or stuff as the previous generation of elites and who previously benefited from the inequalities in our society.

#7 Comment By Sam M On November 3, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

“the biased nature of Economics 10 contributes to and symbolizes the increasing economic inequality in America”

Know what else does those things?


By all means, they should take their own walk-out seriously and drop out. Imagine the thumb in The Man’s eye that would be.

#8 Comment By Jen On November 3, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

This reminds me of when my high-and-mighty anti-Walmart acquaintances declare that they are boycotting Walmart for [insert whatever grievance they have this week about the store they wouldn’t recognize if it walked over and bit ’em in the ass] and will go to Whole Foods instead.

Which of course means, exactly nothing has taken place, boycott-wise, because they don’t go to Walmart anyway. But boy, they sure do work up a self-righteous lather over not darkening the door they’ve never darkened to start with, to the extent that you’d think justice surely must have been served up piping hot somewhere.

#9 Comment By Patrick On November 3, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

“Fatuous Ivy League twits.”

They’re just kids.

#10 Comment By Cannoneo On November 3, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

Ec 10 at Harvard is Ground Zero of free market capitalism’s obliteration of “all that is solid” in culture and tradition.

I would have thought you’d appreciate some students’ efforts to generate a values conversation there.

#11 Comment By baconboy On November 3, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

I think the proper response, on the professor’s part, is just to ignore them. If there was an assignment due that day, I’d treat it no differently than if they were too hung over to make it to class. Any engagement with them would just validate their concerns and self importance.
This discussion ought to be paired up with Anthony Esolen’s just posted essay on the role of authority in education: [5]

#12 Comment By Stef On November 3, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

From his bio ( [6]) he’s a professor, which means tenure, most likely. So even a bad rating on ratemyprofessor.com probably won’t hurt him too much.

Hopefully conservatives who hate tenure on principle; who’d like all college teachers to be adjuncts employed on a semester-by-semester basis will remember why tenure was conceived of in the first place. It works as well for conservatives as for Marxists.

#13 Comment By Mitchell Young On November 3, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

Reminds me of the ‘protest’ by Berkeley (Boalt) law students over prop 209, which ostensibly ‘banned’ race as a consideration for university admissions. They held a one day walk out of courses, but were sure to let their professors and the school know it was just a one day thing, and in no way represented leaving the law school or any dropping out of any particular course.

That said, I have to agree with the posters here that the economics profession, particularly neoliberal zealots like Mankiew, need to be taken down. It’s already been done theoretically (going back at least to John Nash), and empirically (going back to Veblen)

#14 Comment By Rod Dreher On November 3, 2011 @ 3:16 pm

Hey, I agree with y’all that the economics profession has a lot to answer for. I just find it risible that these Harvard undergrads think they’re striking a blow for justice and reform by walking out of a class they don’t like.

I have in my files a clipping of a photograph from the front of the B section of the Baton Rouge Advocate, circa 1987. There is Your Working Boy, in shorts and sunglasses, marching with other undergrads and carrying a sign calling for the CIA to quit recruiting on campus. I told myself that I was taking a moral stand. But really, it was a beautiful spring day, and I wanted to cut class. It’s hard to think of a more empty gesture than students cutting class to protest anything.

#15 Comment By TWylite On November 3, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

OK, we sort of have yet another “Life Of Brian”/OWS moment here: the [7]
Anyways, my limited reading of and about Mankiw is that he’s not a typical Bush/Wall Street cheerleader/hack, but a fairly straight shooter who calls it like he sees it. He has a blog here: [8].

#16 Comment By Lord Karth On November 3, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

I went to college during the Reagan 80s, and about the only time I cut classes was when some famous person was giving a lecture. I blew off a class once when Jesse Jackson came to give a speech during the ’84 campaign. I couldn’t stand the man politically, but I just wanted to see a famous man speak in person and see if the man’s rhetoric matched its reputation.

Turns out that it did. Not only that, but Mr. Jackson was generous enough with his time to meet with some of those who attended outside the lecture hall. I even got (along with maybe 20 others) some actual face time with the man, “mano a mano”. He was a fine speaker in person as well as on the podium. I didn’t come away a “convert” to his point of view, but he listened to mine, answered the questions I asked him, and took me seriously during the entire exchange.

I respect him for that. I’ve never forgotten that day. A serious contribution to my education, that was.

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#17 Comment By baconboy On November 3, 2011 @ 4:10 pm

Rod, you were an idiot. If you were only in the protest because it was a nice day, and not to pick up a cute girl, then you really didn’t understand the point. Amateur.

#18 Comment By Scott Lahti On November 3, 2011 @ 4:12 pm

Pardon my French, but there comes a time when all aspiring undergraduate sans-culottes, more Bathrobespierre than anything else upon the revolutionary hangover following every kegger, come to disillusion in realizing that though their college days bore little fruit in the way of Liberty, and were even in their pre-law enlistments of dubious Egality, they’ll always have Fraternity.

#19 Comment By Sean Scallon On November 3, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

You know, I’d wish you’d make up your mind. Either the kids have a point even if they lack coherent solutions or you really believe (ala Herman Cain) they should shut up, go out and pick onions in Vadalia, Georgia and let the bond traders continue to pay bonuses to themselves with taxpayer money and go on hunting trips as well. One day you complain about “boob bait” with time-wasting Congressional resolutions about “In God We Trust” and next you’re complaining about Ivy League twits (Yale alumnus Bill Buckley, Dartmouth professor Jeffery Hart, Columbia alumnus Chilton Williamson Jr.) while doing a full-throated Rebel Yell calling for the invasion of Cambridge all the way from Fayetteville, Arkansas (say isn’t there a school of higher learning there too?) In other words, more “boob bait”. Sorry if many of us by accident of birth happen to born above the Mason-Dixon line or had ancestors who served in the Union Army or who came to the country came a little too late to stop the Lincoln Administration from going to war.

Actually if the students really want to make an impact, instead of a one-day walk out they should refuse to come back to class and take the F and forget about their previous GPAs. Because it’s hard to see what Greg Mankiw is going to teach them, he of the Bush II Administration all its wonderful economic theories like how not to pay for war or how not to pay for prescription drug benefits. And yet someone like him gets to be a full professor at Harvard. So you tell me what the scandal is, the students or the school and the establishment which continues to take care of each other (at lest not forget the Ivy League as a dumping ground for “best and brightest” after Vietnam and the Great Society)? Perhaps the students should realize, if they really want to change things, they and their parents and alumni should hold the schools accountable for the faculty they hire.

#20 Comment By Naturalmom On November 3, 2011 @ 5:27 pm

It is hard to take them seriously, even if they have a point. I heard one student interviewed on NPR this morning. She said she was “extremely poor” (or something to that effect) and that it made her sick to hear him lecture about how economics was a game. (Again, I’m paraphrasing her.) She pointed out that this game has real effects on real people. Excellent point on her part — I hadn’t been paying much attention to the story before that.

But then… as I listened more, I came to realize that she was a student at HARVARD! Um, so how’s The System workin’ for ya? Pretty good, I’d say! I know not everyone gets the golden ticket, but it did seem odd that she didn’t even acknowledge the irony.

#21 Comment By Scott Lahti On November 3, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

This classic column seems somehow relevant every time the pretensions of one or another faction at one or another Dear Old Wassamatta U. make the news:

[9] by H.L. Mencken

[From the Trenton, N.J., Sunday Times, April 3, 1927. Early in 1927 several suicides were reported from college campuses, and the newspapers played them up in a melodramatic manner and tried to show that there was an epidemic. In this they were supported by various alarmed pedagogues, one of whom, Dr. John Martin Thomas, president of Rutgers, told the Times that the cause was “too much Mencken.” The Times asked me to comment on this, and I sent in the following. Thomas, a Presbyterian pastor turned pedagogue, was president of Rutgers from 1925 to 1930. He resigned to enter the insurance business.]

I see nothing mysterious about these suicides. [More]

#22 Comment By Hector On November 3, 2011 @ 9:36 pm

Re: If you were only in the protest because it was a nice day, and not to pick up a cute girl, then you really didn’t understand the point

That’s so passe. The cute girls nowadays are in the Congregational church. Their parents were the ones in the protests.

#23 Comment By David J. White On November 3, 2011 @ 10:20 pm


Thank, you Scott Lahti! That made my evening!

#24 Comment By Scott Lahti On November 5, 2011 @ 10:27 am

Thank you, David. It is an honor and a privilege – and for me as well. Perhaps you’ve had this experience before: you’ll be skimming through an old comment thread, before alighting with delight upon a fugitive entry that finds you within seconds tearblind and gutsore, exclaiming “Dude cracks me up!”, then, scanning up for the byline and seeing your own name, asking “How’d that get there?”…

#25 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 6, 2011 @ 9:32 am

“walking out of a class to protest the way the professor teaches it is tantrummy silliness”

That may well be true, but it depends on what the professor was teaching. Perhaps he was teaching basic material that would give the students some tools and methods for competent economic analysis, or understanding of history. Or, perhaps he was teaching them that the way to a comfortable life with seven-figure bonuses is to manipulate financial securities and never mind the impact on the masses once you’ve got yours. Who knows? That hasn’t been examined by any source presented here.

What remains silly is that students walking out of class don’t cost anybody anything except themselves. It might be a conscious sacrifice of their own welfare to a greater good, but they didn’t say that. Instead, they acted like it was a modest slap in the face to the ogres of Wall Street, an act of hard-hitting civil disobedience. It was not. That they think it was is indeed pathetic.