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Grand Pursuit: the Story of Economic Genius

Reviewed by John Gray

Those familiar with my writings know well about my respect for economics as it was, a branch of moral philosophy, and my scorn and dislike for economics as it has become, a moral/spiritual-free zone. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I wish to share this excellent book review by John Gray with you. Please find time to read it, and be inspired by it.

“As Nasar demonstrates, the subject has been shaped as much by ideological fantasy and overweening theoretical constructions as by empirical inquiry. Few economists anticipated the financial crisis or believed that a dislocation on the scale the world has suffered was even remotely possible. Equally, because history - even the history of economics - is no longer seen as central to the profession, very few economists have had anything of interest to say about how to deal with the difficulties that have followed. This only confirms the continuing accuracy of Stigler's indictment of a hollow discipline. When you are struggling to stave off a global disaster, there isn't a great deal to economics.”- John Gray

…”There really isn't a great deal to economics, considered as a logical structure based on a few indisputable axioms about the world. If one cuts oneself off from two generations of immensely varied and instructive empirical research, and if one thinks economic history has no relevance to economic theory, then one is indeed left with a hollow discipline."- George Stigler

Writing in 1963, Stigler reached this judgement in a review of Joan Robinson's book Economic Philosophy. Robinson, whom Stigler described as "a superior logician", fused the "indisputable axioms" of economics with the ideological prejudices of the time…

Robinson formed her view of the world by carefully avoiding any engagement with the messy actualities of human experience. She was far from being alone in this. Starting from quite different methodological and ideological premises, a later generation of economists displayed a similar penchant for unreality. For the neoliberals who began to acquire political influence from the late 1970s onwards, the market was not a fallible human institution like any other, but the very embodiment of rationality. Recurrent booms and busts had nothing to do with the nature of capitalism, which would be entirely harmonious in its workings if only governments would stop interfering. These free-market doctrinaires closed their eyes to history just as much as did the crypto-Marxist Robinson, writing off the human casualties of their theories as stragglers in the grand march of progress...

The ideological fantasies of modern economics


For Further Readings See:

Sylvia Nasar, Grand Pursuit: the Story of Economic Genius, Fourth Estate, 27 Oct 2011

Today’s Big Question: Should we take modern economics and economists seriously?


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