Daily Archives: April 25, 2013

Department Profiled in The Washington Post

In the wake of the Herndon paper, The Washington Post profiled the UMass Amherst Department of Economics, providing a detailed history of the department’s growth and development over the last 40-plus years. Interviewed for the piece were Professors Richard Wolff, Gerald Epstein, Nancy Folbre, Arindrajit Dube and Robert Pollin.

The Washington Post
Inside the offbeat economics department that debunked Reinhart-Rogoff
Posted by Dylan Matthews on April 24, 2013 at 4:00 pm

It was surprising to learn last week that Harvard professors Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart’s argument for austerity is based in part on an Excel blooper. What’s not surprising is who found it out.

The rebuttal came in the form of a paper released by the Political Economy Research Institute, a group at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst with close ties to its economics department. Two of its authors, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin, are UMass professors, and the other, Thomas Herndon, is a grad student in the department. No one who knows the UMass department was surprised they’d trained their considerable analytical firepower on Reinhart and Rogoff. Amherst has, over the past 40 years, developed a reputation as perhaps the single most important heterodox economics department in the country.

It wasn’t always that way. In the 1960s, it was a fairly mainstream department, with a moderately conservative inclination, according to emeritus professor and influential Marxist economist Richard D. Wolff. It employed Vernon Smith, a noted libertarian who shared the 2002 Nobel, from 1968 to 1972, and Hugo Sonnenschein, who would go on to be president of the University of Chicago, from 1970 to 1973.

That was when things started to change. The tipping point, Wolff says, was the denial of tenure for Michael Best, a popular, left-leaning junior professor. “He had a lot of student support, and because it was the 1960s students were given to protest,” Wolff recalls. That, and unrelated personality tensions with the administration, inspired the mainstreamers to start leaving. Read more…