Just What the Country Needs: Professor 'Shining a Marxist Light' on Financial Crisis

Education reporter Lisa Foderaro took a look at how the financial crisis is working its way into college curricula, and lets a Marxist professor at Vassar get in some anti-capitalist dig, in "Colleges Turn the Economic Crisis Into a Lesson Plan."

Sidney Plotkin, a professor of political science at Vassar College, has taught "Power and Public Policy" in one iteration or another for more than 30 years. But last month he began a new section of the course by exploring the housing bubble and Bernard L. Madoff, consumer borrowing and federal bailouts - and shining a Marxist light on the whole morass.

"Marx is the uninvited guest in the discussion," Dr. Plotkin told the group of undergraduates assembled in Rockefeller Hall. "By looking at the financial crisis through the lens of a Marxist analysis, we begin to see how the American debate about power is shaped by Marxism."

Foderaro treated Plotkin's Marxist worldview as perfectly valid and relevant (never mind the fall of Communism):

For students, taking a class that probes the gyrations of the economy - even through the prism of Marx - forces them to keep up with current events.

"It makes it easier to talk with authority on the issues," said Dana Bell, a junior at Vassar, referring to Professor Plotkin's course on power and public policy. "You've got to stay awake in this class, or you'll be caught off guard."

Although students may be energized by the relevance and immediacy of the subject, Dr. Plotkin detects a growing cynicism as well.

"Last fall there was tremendous optimism and hope that directions would change in American politics in significant ways," he said. "But now there's much more discouragement among students who sense that whether it's Obama, Bush, Clinton or anyone else, the institutions - and the interests wrapped around those institutions - create an enormous degree of inertia and resistance to change."