Democratic Legacy of UMass Economics: Outsider Impressions

For many years I have had the impression that among all the departments of economics, the one at University of Massachusetts Amherst is something special. This feeling is not based on any deep knowledge of its workings. It is an outsider view, based on vague feelings that part of academic reputation sometimes consists of.

When visiting UMass Amherst many years ago, mostly its sociology department invited by Agustin Lao-Montes , I remember one of the meetings was held in a hall that belonged to the economics department. The hall had one of those plaques that mentions the year of construction and other relevant details. Typically, the relevant details mentioned in that kind of commemorative inscription are the name of the architect or the rector or the mayor or some similar authority. The plaque, however, made visible the names of all the workers who had built it.

I was wondering about whether it might be a standard practice in campus buildings more generally. Nevertheless, I somehow connected this minor detail with the democratic legacy of some of the economists I knew had been or still were teaching there. Most importantly, two of my favorite authors from the 1980s, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis whose book Democracy & Capitalism I still find inspiring. To mention two other UMass economists who, like Bowles and Gintis, have retired or otherwise moved on, I have also enjoyd reading Carmen Diana Reede and Richard Wolff. Right now I see that another important emeritus of the department, Stephen Resnick, has recently passed away.

I do not know how much the legacy of the people I have mentioned continues in the department and I have never really had any intimate knowleged of the department itself. These are impressions from outside. Why I started remembering all this is that I saw that the economics graduate student who recently made a huge service to economic policy debates, Thomas Herndon, is also from UMass Amherst. He has made the world see that some of the main arguments behind the recent austerity measures are based on factual errors. This has been an important blow to austerianism. It also gives hope that defending meaningful intellectual environments matters.

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