Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Niall Kishtainy's Pluralist, Popular History Of Economics

This post calls attention to A Little History of Economics, by Niall Kishtainy. Since I only skimmed this in a local bookstore, this post is not a proper review.

Kishtainy's book, in successive chapters, focuses on the lives of specific economists. The concluding chapter asks why one would want to be an economist, a question that is answered, I gather, by the preceding chapters. The book is in the same genre as Robert Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers. Since many more economists are covered in a short span, individual chapters are shorter. As I recall, economists (not in this order) covered include:

  • Augustine and Thomas Aquinas
  • Mercantilists
  • Francois Quesnay, Mirabeau, and other Physiocrats
  • Adam Smith
  • David Ricardo
  • Charles Fourier, Robert Owen, and other utopian socialists
  • Thomas Malthus
  • Friedrich List
  • Karl Marx
  • William Stanley and Alfred Marshall
  • German historical school, Austrian school, and the methodenstreit
  • Thorstein Veblen
  • Vladimir Lenin and John Hobson
  • Ludwig von Mises
  • Joan Robinson and Edward Chamberlin
  • John Maynard Keynes
  • Paul Samuelson, J. R. Hicks
  • Friedrich Hayek
  • Arthur Lewis, Paul Rosenstein-Rodan, and Raul Prebisch
  • Robert Solow, Trevor Swan, and Paul Romer
  • Joseph Schumpeter
  • Gary Becker
  • John Von Neumann and John Nash
  • Ken Arrow and Gerard Debreu
  • Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Andre Frank
  • James Buchanan
  • Milton Friedman
  • George Akerlof and Joseph Stiglitz
  • Hyman Minsky
  • John Muth, Eugene Fama, and Robert Lucas
  • Ed Prescott and Finn Kyland
  • Behavioral economics
  • Thomas Piketty

Doubtless, if I read the book in detail, I would have objections to specific details. The attempted coverage, however, seems quite impressive. This book extends from before to after most histories. And it covers a wider range of economists than most.


Anonymous said...

Coverage does not equate to good -- after all, many such books mention, say, Marx or Proudhon to dismiss them (via a distorted account of their ideas). As you say, reading the book will show if it is actually pluralist or just another "look at these idiots who did not see the one and true path"!


Robert Vienneau said...

If I recall correctly, the book does advance the Whiggish claim that Arrow and Debreu, with the proof of the first welfare theorem, demonstrated the validity of Adam Smith's invisible hand. I am never sure how much leeway it is fair to grant authors in popular writing.

I also expect the ideas of each economist to be treated sympathetically in the chapters devoted to them. This will result in inconsistencies between chapters. I do not know, for example, what the book has to say about Adam Smith in the chapter on Schumpeter. But he would have treated with derision the idea that capitalism should be judged on its ability to
achieve a static allocative efficiency.