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Friday, January 13, 2006

Greg Mankiw Returns to Teaching

First, from The Washington Wire in the WSJ:

Minor Memos: As Bernanke prepares to succeed Fed chair Greenspan, fellow academic economist Greg Mankiw admits, "I will not miss you as a competitor in the textbook market."

Next, from the Harvard Crimson online edition, a story about Greg Mankiw and his return to teaching. In one class he is teaching, Ec 10, Mankiw hopes to overcome the complaints of conservative bias that occurred when Feldstein was teaching it:

After D.C., Mankiw Resumes Teaching, by Alex M. McCleese, Harvard Crimson: For Beren Professor of Economics N. Gregory Mankiw, the leader of one of Harvard’s largest courses, economics is not just a day job. The Ec 10 professor typically wakes up in his 1930s brick colonial in Wellesley between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. to take his border terrier Tobin for a walk. Tobin, who is named after Nobel Prize-winning economist James Tobin, is the brown-furred successor to Keynes, Mankiw’s last dog. The real-life Tobin was a follower of economist John Maynard Keynes, as well....

Mankiw’s first conversation with his wife was about public policy. “We were both grad students. I was at MIT, and she was at Harvard at the Kennedy School,” he recalls ... “We started chatting at the train platform at South Station, and I sat next to her and we chatted on the Amtrak train, and that’s how we met,” he says. “We had sort of a natural common interest, because we both had policy interests, and then we started dating and got married.” Mankiw pursued his interest in public policy in Washington from 2003 to 2005, serving as chair of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors. But he says he is glad to be back ... trying to help hundreds of Ec 10 students become “economically literate citizens.” “I’m first and foremost an academic, and always viewed myself as spending my life in a university,” Mankiw says. “I viewed [the time in Washington] as a temporary period of public service.”

A NATURAL TEACHER Mankiw’s love affair with economics began during his freshman year at Princeton, when he took an introductory course that he says “had such a big impact on my life.” “What I liked about economics was the combination of, on the one hand, very rigorous scientific thinking with an application to important public policy problems,” he says. “I was always very interested in policy and politics, but I liked the scientific approach, the idea of mathematical models, separating out analysis from value judgements. Economics did that in a way that I thought was very clean and very compelling.”

When Mankiw was given the chance to teach the 680-person behemoth Social Analysis 10, “Principles of Economics,” beginning this past fall, he says he leapt at the opportunity, partly because his own introductory economics class had made such an impression on him. The move was a logical one: he had been an Ec 10 Teaching Fellow in the mid-1980s when ... Martin S. Feldstein ’61 was teaching the course, and he had written the course’s textbook, “Principles of Economics.”

“I love teaching, and obviously anybody who volunteers for a big course like Ec 10 has to love teaching, because it’s a big course and a big responsibility,” he says. ... Mankiw says that Ec 10 is a course with an especially important mission. “I’m a big believer that you can really teach a lot of economics at the basic level, at a non-technical level. I think those are tremendously important ideas for citizens,” he says. “Being an intelligent voter, or an intelligent reader of the newspaper requires a basic knowledge of economics.” ...

Some students criticized Ec 10 under Feldstein’s leadership for what they considered a conservative bias. Social Analysis 72, “Economics: A Critical Approach,” has been offered since the fall of 2003, after students circulated a petition calling for an alternative introductory course. Mankiw says that he tries for balance in assembling the syllabus and readings for Ec 10. He acknowledges that economists are often viewed as conservative because of their emphasis on market efficiency, but says that the relative importance of market efficiency remains an open question. “Embracing the tools of economics does not mean embracing a particular political view,” he says.

During his tenure in Washington, Mankiw sparked political controversy when he said ... that outsourcing of jobs by U.S. companies “is probably a plus for the economy in the long run.” Democratic leaders, as well as House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, criticized this statement. Mankiw later wrote in a letter to Hastert that his comments were misconstrued and that he believes the loss of U.S. jobs is “regrettable.” Inspired by his experience in Washington, Mankiw recently published a paper about outsourcing. ... “I’m very much an advocate of free trade.”

THE MAN IN ACTION In an Ec 10 lecture on Monday, Dec. 12, Mankiw addressed the disputes between liberal and conservative economists. ... He roamed on all sides of the podium as he outlined competing viewpoints on taxes, externalities, anti-trust policy, the rationality of individuals, and the role of government, the main points of contention in economics. He enlivened this discussion ... with an anecdote about ice cream to illustrate a theory of voting. ... Mankiw delivered a total of six lectures in the fall semester of Ec 10, which is taught largely in section.

“I think he’s a good professor,” says John D. Cella ’08, ... “He does actually try to get kids interested in economics, besides just the equations and the mundane stuff you have to learn in introductory economics.” Cella says that Mankiw frequently e-mails students to point out articles in the Economist or the New York Times. Students do receive replies from Mankiw if they e-mail him, Cella says.

After he lectures, Mankiw says he usually waits after class to respond to students’ questions. “I’m happy to hang out as long as they want to talk,” he says. “They can come see me during office hours, though not enough do.” After his lecture on “Market Success and Market Failure,” Mankiw crouched down on Sanders’ wooden stage to address a student’s question about economic growth during the Clinton administration...

BEYOND ECONOMICS In his life outside of teaching economics, Mankiw is still a student. He reads widely—from Steven Pinker’s psychology tomes to history to the entire Harry Potter series, which he has read out loud to his three children—and he takes statistics courses when he has free time. But he says that free time has been hard to come by recently. “Lately, my main outside activity is raising my three children, which is a pretty time-consuming task,” he says. In addition to his 14-year-old daughter, Mankiw has two sons, ages 11 and 7. ...

Mankiw says that he plans to continue teaching Ec 10 for the “foreseeable future,” adding that he finds it especially rewarding to teach an introductory course. “Freshman year people are very open to news ways of thinking about the world, which economics is,” Mankiw says. “It certainly was for me when I was a freshman.”

    Posted by on Friday, January 13, 2006 at 11:46 AM in Economics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (1)


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