Mankiw on the Student Walkout

In a column in Saturday’s NYT, Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw responds to the student “walkout” of his introductory economics class. The column’s title: “Know What You’re Protesting.” Here’s a taste.

Eight minutes into the lecture, about 5 to 10 percent of the class stood up and quietly left. Some other students who had taken the class in previous years then walked into the room as a counterprotest. I have been told that at least one of the students who walked out sneaked back in later: he wanted to support the protest but didn’t want to miss the lecture. After a few minutes, I resumed the class as usual.

So how do I feel about it?

My first reaction was nostalgia. I went to college in the late 1970s, when the memory of the Vietnam War was still fresh and student activism was more common. Today’s college students tend to be more focused on polishing their résumés than on campaigning for social reform. I applaud the protesters for thinking beyond their own parochial concerns and trying to make society a better place for everyone.

But my second reaction was sadness at how poorly informed the Harvard protesters seemed to be. As with much of the Occupy movement across the country, their complaints seemed to me to be a grab bag of anti-establishment platitudes without much hard-headed analysis or clear policy prescriptions. Ironically, the topic of the lecture that the protesters chose to boycott was economic inequality, including a discussion of recent trends and their causes.

Our own Todd Zywicki commented on the walkout here.

[Note: Link to Mankiw column fixed.]