By Kody Fairfield
The Communist forefather, and economics author, Karl Marx, who has been dead since 1883, still has appeal in United States higher education economic practices. It appears that Marx’s book The Communist Manifesto, written in 1848, is currently the most assigned economics book on US college campuses, according to a new syllabi database called the Open Syllabus Project (OPS), discussed in an article on MarketWatch.com.
OPS uses an algorithm to extract citations and metadata from public websites, to give each publication mentioned a “count,” and a “teaching score.” The former shows how many times a work, like The Communist Manifesto, appears in the database. The latter is to show “a numerical indicator of the frequency with which a particular work is taught.”
Their data shows that Marx’s book has a count of 3,189 and a teaching score of 99.7, giving it the highest marks for economic publications. This is almost twice the count and 4 teaching score points higher than any other work listed. Notably alongside the communist economic and social teaching were numerous publications of Keynesian theory. Actually, at least 10 out of the top 15 publications under the economics and money category were of the Keynesian or Communist schools of thought.
Some of those publications include Paul Krugman‘s Economics placing 3rd, John Maynard Keynes‘ The General Theory Of Employment placing 6th, Ben Bernanke‘s Nonmonetary Effects Of Financial Crisis In Propagation Of The Great Depression placing 10th on the list, and many, many more.
With the amount of controlled-market economics and social theory in syllabi, it seems to match the often heard narrative about the ideology in academia, which is its tendency to lean heavily toward left authoritariansim.
Now, it would not be fair to ignore the fact that there are some free-market school of thought publications on the list. However it is a far fewer number: 2 to be exact. The 2 on the list do rank decently though, with Adam Smith‘s Wealth of Nations placing 2nd, and Milton Friedman‘s Capitalism And Freedom placing 5th.
It would also not be fair to forget to mention that the leader of OSP, Joe Karaganis, has said that while the database currently uses over 1 million syllabi to compile its data, there are roughly 80 million that could be reviewed from various levels of education. Karaganis also mentioned that there are still some issues with the collection of data, as their algorithm seems to have problems with single -rd named publications like the Bible, as well as with publications with no specified authors like the US Constitution. With both of these variables, it could be easily argued that the data would change given the corrections.
Not withstanding the issues above, the data still begs the question…where are all of the free market or Austrian economic publications? Shouldn’t men like F.A. Hayek, Ludwig Van Mises, and Harry Hazlitt at least be used in contrast or as a challenge to the presentation of the more common readings? The fact of the matter is, academia being mostly government-controlled moves to the government’s will. Hence why we see more Keynesian publications in college syllabi, as Keynesian economics allow for more government intrusion in the marketplace.
For a country founded on laissez-faire economics and small government principles, it is especially odd to see that the controlled market economics are now mainstream in terms of U.S. economic policy, alongside that of academia. And with the U.S. having its fiat currency called into question globally, holding a national debt climbing toward 20 trillion dollars, and seemingly fighting off market bubble bursts at every turn, is it not time to question the status quo of such policy, and academia? Wouldn’t a contrast of ideas, presenting both controlled and free market principles, push for a more balanced approach, or at least a more educated approach to economic thought?
Academia should be the place where ideas are challenged, arguments are made to be cogent, and free thought is an active player in both. Adding in the social theories and economic ideas of free market thinkers such as Hayek, Mises, and Hazlitt would at least lead to a more balanced approach in education, and at most, could return the U.S.’s economic policy to its founding principles. What is so scary about the notion of a challenge to the current dominant economic theories in academia and US policy?
The answer is probably something as simple as what Milton Friedman said about freedom and free markets, “A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it … gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”
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