Anti-Mankiw!

When I saw this item on Professor Greg Mankiw’s blog, I admit that my first thought was … someone has written Anti-Mankiw, Vols 1 and 2.  Can I channel a (dead) zeitgeist or what?  And, indeed, it turns out that someone is apparently trying to organize a collective to do something like that, if I understood the link correctly.

I rummaged around on the high bookshelves and, lo, there was an aged paperback copy of Anti-Samuelson, Vol. 2.  (No idea where Volume 1 went.  Object lesson in why it is time to get rid of the books that no one will ever open again, and save future generations the trouble.)  I realize that this makes me seem (i) truly econo-geeky in all the wrong ways, (ii) chomskyesque and intellectual radical-chic, but then I am the product of a passage from left to right, (iii) a middle aged academic bitterly clinging to the truths of the 1970s.

Except that I never actually read it.  My problem was, I came very late to economics from philosophy – it was not until law school that I took any economics, so I hadn’t read Samuelson and couldn’t understand three sentences of Anti-Samuelson, either the economics or the radical critique.  It just sat on a shelf in my library looking chic and radical, until it started looking aged and bitter.

It probably is true, as this website notes, that Mankiw is the new Samuelson.  I just bought a used copy on Amazon of Mankiw’s Essentials; I used to read novels at night, but this is more – more soothing, somehow.  I read it and the world makes Bourgeois Sense; it must have been how the High Victorians felt.  All seems right with the world – not because there’s some free lunch someplace, but that even with the tradeoffs all netted out, we’re still on the upside.  Otherwise, I’m afraid I too often feel like Cacambo asking Candide, “‘Sir, what is optimism?’ ‘Alas, it is the mania for thinking we are happy when in fact we are miserable’.”

Plus, Mankiw is such a clear, effortless explainer.  I wish I could write like that.  [No, you write like this: see next graf.  -ed.]

However, the really, really great thing is not merely to be named an “instrument of bourgeois ideology.”  Although, come to think of it, that’s pretty cool.  What’s not to like, as I suspect my students today would say?  That’s the crucial gap between the 1970s and now – while there is a segment (larger at my institution than most, I suppose – Anonster, feel free to weigh in here, and btw are you ever going to out yourself and let me buy you coffee?) that can say that like it’s a bad thing, the vast majority of students I teach, if they understood it at all, would think utterly without irony that it’s about the best back of the book endorsement an author could hope for.

As in, “This instrument of bourgeois ideology will have a permanent place on the bookshelf of your mind.  Generations will be reading this instrument of bourgeois ideology down the road.  The author of this brilliantly accessible textbook is truly an instrument of bourgeois ideology.  Future generations of students will thank Greg Mankiw for his sublime instrumentation of bourgeois ideology.  There are few such instruments as this one in your hands.”

The really truly great thing, though, would be to have some graduate students devote years of their lives to a line by line radical critique of your work.  Two volumes.  One of which is still up on my shelves.  Intellectual immortality.  (Update:  Well!  Thanks to Professor Mankiw for the link.)