Karl Marx is the most assigned economist in U.S. college classes

Market Watch – by Tom Beman

More than 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the onset of market-economy practices in China, “The Communist Manifesto” still ranks among the three most frequently assigned texts at American universities.

That’s according to data from Open Syllabus Project, which tracks books and other works assigned to students in more than 1 million syllabi.

The database is assembled using computer algorithms that scrape the data from publicly available sites. It is still very much a work in progress, according to its website and project leader Joe Karaganis. The syllabi analyzed are primarily from the U.S. and cover the past decade or so.

Each text is assigned a count, registering the number of times it appears in syllabi, and a teaching score, “a numerical indicator of the frequency with which a particular work is taught,” according to the site.

A number of notable works, including the Bible and the U.S. Constitution, don’t appear in the data set. “The Bible’s one of a number of prominent texts we can’t say anything about,” said Karaganis, vice president of the American Assembly at Columbia University. That’s because the computer algorithms used to compile the data can’t handle single word titles by unspecified authors.

In addition, while the database has analyzed more than 1 million syllabi, the group estimates that there are more than 80 million that could be reviewed. The data include syllabi from all levels, ranging from community colleges to Ivy League schools, Karaganis said.

Some books show up where you might not expect them.

For instance, a search for “economics” shows Paul Krugman at the top of the list with his iconic “Economics,” which gets a count of 1,081 and score of 89.4. However, Gregory Mankiw’s “Macroeconomics” doesn’t appear at all under the same search, even though it gets a count of 989 and a teaching score of 87.5.

Karl Marx’s classic receives a count of 3,189 and a score of 99.7. It doesn’t actually show up under economics texts, either, as it is generally taught along with philosophy texts such as “The Social Contract,” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau; “Leviathan,” by Thomas Hobbes; and “On Liberty,” by John Stuart Mill. “’The Communist Manifesto’” is widely taught as a work of social theory,” rather than as an economics text, Karaganis said. He added that when Marx is taught in economics classes, professors generally assign “Capital” (or “Das Kapital”), which received a count of 1,447 and a score of 94.6.

The only books assigned more frequently than “The Communist Manifesto” were “The Elements of Style,” the writing guide by William Strunk, popularized by E.B. White, and “The Republic,” by Plato.

Among other standouts, “Mein Kampf,” by Adolph Hitler, received a count of 697 and a score of 75.7. “What Is To Be Done,” by Vladimir Lenin, received a count of 361 and a teaching score of 45.9.

Here’s a look at the most frequently taught works by notable economists (and others) relating to economics and money:

Author Most frequently taught work Count Teaching score
Karl Marx The Communist Manifesto 3189 99.7
Adam Smith Wealth of Nations 1587 95.5
Paul Krugman Economics 1081 89.4
Gregory N. Mankiw Macroeconomics 989 87.5
Thomas L. Friedman The Lexus and the Olive Tree 733 77.8
Milton Friedman Capitalism and Freedom 556 65.7
Joseph Stiglitz Economics 528 62.8
John Maynard Keynes The General Theory of Employment 348 44.2
Malcolm Gladwell The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference 225 28.7
John Kenneth Galbraith The Affluent Society 177 22.5
Michael Lewis Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game 50 6.4
Ben Bernanke Nonmonetary Effects of the Financial Crisis in the Propagation of the Great Depression 40 5.1
Janet Yellen Efficiency Wage Models of Unemployment 31 3.9
Nouriel Roubini Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance 16 2
Alan Greenspan The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World 16 2
Source: Open Syllabus Project / MarketWatch analysis

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