Friday, 8 October 2010

Review: New Ideas from Dead Economists

I would not say I regret reading New Ideas from Dead Economists but I'd certainly hesitate before recommending it. The book written by American Economist Todd G. Buchholz gives a brief history of Economics working through the major economic thinkers and movements from Adam Smith to today's.The concept of the book is fantastic but I was left with a feeling that it fails to for fill its promises.

For starters the book could easily loose two thirds of its pages! For each economist it has a short biography which is very useful knowledge, its good to their background and influences but sometimes this was too long winded. If the biographies were too long winded then the explanations of theories are something else, I found my self often begging it to get to the point. Perhaps one of the problems is Buchholz attempts to use analogies to 'simplify' key concepts, while being a good idea, Buchholzis not very good at it. For a young British citizen making sense of out dated US orientated analogies just leads to confusion. On a free period I kept thinking I was getting to a good analogy and would dictate it to my friend, by the time I'd finished neither me or him would know quite what the point was...
I could go as far as saying the only thing I got out of the book was: how linked philosophy and economics are, that most theories in economics have a key creator and economists like to ague. However by picking these up from the book at least means it has had some positive effects on me, I certainly think that any good economics student should understand were key areas of the syllabus come from but I might as well save you the trouble and list them bellow (Conveniently these are also pretty much the chapters of the book):

Adam Smith – Invisiblehand
Malthus – Population and dangers of growth
David Ricardo –Free trade!
John Steward Mill –Worked on taxation in re-guard to utilitarianism....
Karl Marx – Marxism (communism)
Alfred Marshal – Further supply and demand, marginal utility and cost of production
Keynes – Work on exchange rates and Fiscal Policy ( and more)
Monetarism (Milton Friedman) – Money supply
Public Choice theory – Governmentsonly act on self interest and are untrustworthy governors of the economy.
Rational Expectations - “states that agents'predictions ofthe future value of economically relevant variables,is not systematically wrong in that all errors are random.”

Note how the last discription comes from wikipedia, I could go as far as to say that you could get just as much if not more than in this book off wikipedia by typing in those headings but that would be unfair.
I have been too harsh on this book, of course there will be better and clearer information on the internet it is a culmination of many peoples work, this book is written by one man. I think this is were the problem lies, Buchholz has tried to cover the entire history of economics and he just can't do it. In areas the book is witty, easy to understand and exciting were as in others it is difficult and jumbled, I believe this is because Buchholz has had to pad out his knowledge and in areas that perhaps he is not specialist in and who can blame him for not being as good at explaining it. Also the book was written some time ago and has been repeatedly revised perhaps its lost its flare as a result.
Despite my perhaps damning review, this book is a bestseller and quite highly rated online. Some quick research shows that economists are more likely to be critical of the book than none-economists perhaps this is a factor in my judgment, its not written for economists.

I wouldn't advise you not to read this book but I would not put it near the top of your reading list.
I would however advise everyone to take some time to look at each of the economists listed above, these people shaped economics and think how good it would look to quote them in an essay.

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