Meet America’s Most Shameless Defender of the 1 Percent, Harvard Economist Greg Mankiw
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
It’s not really news that America’s economics departments, particularly at elite institutions, are stuffed with people whose careers are founded on protecting monied interests. But it’s pretty rare when someone just comes straight out and announces the fact.
Meet Greg Mankiw, chairman and professor of economics at Harvard, one of the most influential economists in the country. As chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, he guided the economic blundering of George W. Bush. Then in 2006, he became an adviser to Mitt Romney and steered Romney's economic positions in 2012, which included some of the most shocking expressions of classism yet heard from a presidential candidate.
Mankiw's name might not be a household word, but the tentacles of his power and influence extend into Washington, the blogosphere and the classroom, where he molds young minds through his ubiquitous textbooks and lectures (that is, when students are not walking out to protest his conservative bias and harmful agenda).
Above all, Mankiw is the self-appointed Defender in Chief of the 1 percent. How do we know this? Well, because he just published a 23-page paper called “ Defending the One Percent.” It’s helpful to understand the official propaganda line in the class war, and Mankiw has laid it out in a paper that purports to determine whether income inequality requires any intervention.
Professor Mankiw begins by asking the reader to imagine a perfectly egalitarian society where the economy is totally efficient and everybody has the same amount of money. What happens, he asks, when a Steve Jobs pops up? Somebody smarter, more creative than everybody else? Suddenly Mr. Entrepreneur makes amazing things that everybody wants to buy, and now economic inequality has entered the egalitarian utopia. Is it fair to intervene and restore equality by penalizing Mr. Entrepreneur?
It must be said that this opening sally, with its clumsily constructed straw man, would not pass muster with a high school debating coach. Most of Mankiw’s opponents do not ask for perfect income equality or imagine perfect efficiency, but rather envision a playing field in which everyone has a chance to succeed and Mr. Entrepreneur has incentives to conduct his business fairly and to share some of the rewards of his efforts with the community that made them possible. Instead of forming a cartel to hold down the wages of his young engineers, as Steve Jobs did. Or colluding to fix prices, as Steve Jobs is also accused of having done. Or backdating stock options to be sure he comes out in the money. And so on.
Mankiw’s writing displays the sensibility of a young person suddenly infatuated with the writings of Ayn Rand, and in the fine tradition of Randian entrepreneur worship, he pretends that economic inequality is mostly the result of certain people being smarter and more creative than others (one brief glance at the Forbes list of the richest Americans, which is populated by quite a few trust fund babies, destroys this illusion). In a nutshell, he argues that egalitarianism in antithetical to entrepreneurialism.
Not many people would actually argue that we don’t want smart people making cool things. We do. But we also recognize that sometimes Mr . Entrepreneur, heady with his economic success, becomes greedy and starts to try to arrange things so that other entrepreneurs will not be able to compete with him. He begins to cheat and bully and set his boot on the neck of his fellow residents of Utopialand. He may even channel his brilliance into making things that don’t help his neighbor, but actually do harm, like a complicated financial product rigged to drain the bank accounts of unsuspecting citizens.