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Price theory predominates at UCLA econ department

The department of economics at UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) , according to Harold Demsetz its chairman, is not in tune with the economics department at the University of Massachusetts. In fact, scholars who know both would say that they are at opposite poles of the ideological balance beam.

While the Massachusetts faculty makes no apologies for emphasizing radical economics, Dr. Demsetz is not willing to state that he feels his department is biased in the opposite direction.

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He admits to no bias at all, but explains: "We specialize in price theory rather than macro-economics."

But what if a student wanted to learn "other" economics I asked? "They can go somewhere else," was his quick rejoinder.

It would be incorrect to say he "defended" his department's offerings; it would be more truthful to report that he saw no reason to defend it against charges that it did not teach development theory or debate radical political theories.

He emphasized, instead, that the teaching of undergraduates in his department came from empirical work and applied price theory; that students learned sound economics -- and that economics at UCLA is taught as a science.

Oh yes, he explained, theories and political considerations come up, but we're interested in teaching sound, scientific, empirically- based economics and this is "good for students."

We discussed, too, the condition of freshmen when they arrive at UCLA. One reason he gave for their becoming so quickly influenced by their professors is their inability to recognize bias when it comes from a professor.

And he accused California high schools of "brainwashing" their students. "They give us a hard time. We have to do a lot of re-teaching to get these students to do any original thinking."

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Dr. Demsetz further stated, "They are already biased and unbalanced when they get here, Miss Parsons, and any change in them is probably for the better."

What do other economists think of UCLA's econ department? "Too narrow" is a frequent charge. I shared this observation with him.

It wasn't quite a "harrumph" from Chairman Demsetz, but sounded dangerously like it. "We specialize, and we do it well. But we don't have a narrow-minded group of teachers. We have competition in ideas."