In response to a recent call to move “beyond capitalism” in the economics department at Tufts, I think it is important to remind ourselves that any academic department’s mission is to teach students to apply the tenets of its field to complex problems and their future careers, not to obsess over fighting Donald Trump.
Before calling for departmental reform, it is useful to undergo a course of study in that department. Disappointment in an introductory course teaching that firms seek to maximize profit completely misses the point of the course. Economics is designed to understand the way the world works around wealth, labor, consumption, etc., not to ignore reality in favor of some imagined utopia. Profit is how we maximize social welfare. Profit paid for the iPhone you read this on and the checks you and your parents write to be here. Competition and profit-seeking drive the innovations that make your life comfortable.
Of course, economics professors lecture as “holders of knowledge”; that’s what a professor is. They are here to teach us how economics works, because they have spent their lives studying it and we have not. You cannot exactly have a seminar discussion about Black-Scholes Option Pricing; it works a certain way and the professors teach us that. Much of economics is empirical, driven by modeling and data analysis. Economics exams seek “the right answer” because there usually is one in economics. The IS-LM model works a certain way; if one makes up one’s own because one does not like capitalism, one has not learned economics. Teaching statistical analysis is not dehumanizing. It is how we find the best outcome for the greatest number of people without clouding judgment with personal biases.
Nearly every major has most of its classes in a central location; this does not make these buildings centers of power. Economics has a building on the Academic Quad because it is one of the oldest and most popular majors. Trust me, take a class on the second floor of Braker when it is 85 degrees and tell me it is a “space of concentrated power” or some temple of privilege.
Adding new economics courses can help introduce more diverse people to a useful field, but criticizing economics courses for not placing enough focus on politics is like demonizing biology for not having enough emphasis on creative writing. While there are issues that deserve economic attention, we cannot sacrifice the more practical theories and analysis that students need for their careers.
If we really want intellectual diversity, we should be glad that economics is here to offer financial literacy and analytical skills. To mitigate capitalist thinking on a campus dominated by socialist rhetoric directly conflicts with a mission of intellectual diversity. Calls for reduced capitalist influence in the economics department seek an education that eliminates practical skills and forces intellectual homogeneity on Tufts students. Capitalism in the economics department is intellectual diversity at Tufts. To be clear, intellectual diversity includes capitalism. Teaching its tenets prepares students for real-world professions, which is the purpose of studying economics in college.