A lot of what was said had to do with the events leading up to the package deal in the spring of 1973. Some things were said about what happened immediately afterward: the battles fought between the faculty and the grad students, for instance. However, almost nothing was said about the state of radical economics or the department in the 1980s. A few things were said about the 90s, and of course Sam and Steve gave their thoughts on the current state of radical economics and where it might go in the future. While I do have some issues with what some people said about the present and future, I was more interested in the past: specifically, what happened in those early years of the department that led, so quickly, to things changing?
In our digging up of EGSO records over the summer, we came across a variety of memos and minutes beginning in the late 1970s. These were really helpful in constructing a memory of some of the debates which occurred (such as the controversy over the Affirmative Action committee). But they also painted a picture of EGSO's thoughts on their situation as graduate students in this unique department. Their views on TA allocation, funding issues, and other matters of cogovernance are strikingly similar to the views expressed by EGSO today on the same or similar issues. Their views on the changing direction of the department can also be captured in these documents. Indeed, as early as 1983 when students expressed concern over the change in curriculum they noted the changing direction of certain professors' work in the department, towards more mainstream ideas and techniques.
What I find so interesting about this early look at the orientation of the department is how quickly things changed. It makes me wonder, what was the lifespan of this radical movement in economics, both here and in the profession as a whole? If these economists really were riding a wave of social movements, when that wave died did the movement die with it?
This is the reason why I ask: does it really make sense to talk about "the history of radical economics and a radical department, 1973-present" or is it more like "the history of radical economics and a radical department, 1973-79" or some proximate date? The framing of the study, I believe, is essential to understanding both the nature of a radical department and what we can do today to change things for the better. Why? Here is my point: because if radicalism more or less lost steam after this early period (the "to 1979" scenario) then we must look at what things were like at that time, and try our best to go back to that time. Otherwise, in the "to present" scenario, we are left wondering whether radical economics is a simple skirting of the mainstream by people who mostly ask alternative and slightly more interesting questions without relying entirely on neoclassical tools to answer them.
My personal thoughts on the issue are that radicalism was most likely a punctuated event in the history of economic thought in the U.S. I have very few doubts that things were quite different in UMass econ by the mid-1980s and probably even earlier. The question is then, what are the reasons for this change? Like most questions in history, there are both agency and social institutions dimensions to the story, related through some notion of dialectics which I won't go into too much :) I will briefly sketch out what I see as some of the main factors.
1. Sam plays a central role in this history because he was the organizer of the group of professors who were hired in the spring of 1973. Before coming to UMass he researched other attempts at radical institutions that had ultimately dissolved. While he was hesitant at first to share the lessons he learned in studying these departments, later on he admitted that lack of group cohesion was a central element to all of the failure stories. While the initial pact amongst the five did exist, Sam turned towards a different set of questions and ideas in the 1980s which dealt less with critiquing capitalism and more with studying topics that were excluded by neoclassicals at that time, and criticizing the neoclassical theory. He admits this himself.
In fact, by moving more in the direction of Hayek (criticizing the Walrasian model) than, say, Rawls (providing moral critiques of capitalism), Sam had not only given up on the intellectual challenge posed by the construction of a post-capitalist society but he also became increasingly engaged with the academic aspect of his research program. (Find a previous post here on where I see the relationship between radical academics and society.)
2. The problems facing the world in the 1970s when some economists got interested in radical ideas were monumental: global inequality, imperialism, and at the same time a fear of Marxist ideas as "dangerous and subversive." This is definitely a volatile point in global history in terms of what was being talked about and the severity with which people held oppositional views. The 1980s, in contrast, were a period of social conservatism, government crackdown of unions, and the beginning of an era characterized by leftist economists as "neoliberalism." Given that to at least some extent social movements informed these radical economists, you can possibly make an argument that it works in the other direction as well: specifically, that this period gave new theoretical strength to the fundamental neoclassical doctrines of competitive markets and little government intervention.
What does this mean for an understanding of radical economics and what radical economists can do about it? First, as Jim Crotty pointed out near the end, the social problems (partly outlined in -2-)which they confronted in the 1970s are no bigger than the problems radical economists face today. The conditions exist for radical economists to criticize capitalism and face the greater intellectual challenge of constructing an alternative, so what radical economics had in the 1970s is similar to (if not less important than) what radical economists have today.
Second, so much of this is about individual choices, and that is something I find both amazingly beautiful and powerful but also very dangerous. Here, I believe all we can do is trust in education and fruitful debate. In fact, lots of debate -- open communication is absolutely central. And, it might be necessary to make some pacts at times :) but we should not view them as necessary evils but as opportunities for cooperation.
Finally, I would strongly differ with Sam concerning open engagement with the top of the mainstream. There is no a priori reason to do this, and in fact it may compromise our position by fetishizing the elite, which is directly contrary to radical principles.