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The Assumptions Economists Make Hardcover – February 21, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; First Edition (US) First Printing edition (February 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780674052260
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674052260
  • ASIN: 0674052269
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #834,818 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

The Assumptions Economists Make is a marvelous piece of political economy. Jonathan Schlefer ably contrasts the two main approaches to macroeconomics--neoclassical and classical/Keynesian--and on social, historical, and political grounds strongly endorses the latter. (Lance Taylor, author of Maynard's Revenge: The Collapse of Free Market Macroeconomics)

A marvel of clarity and elegance, The Assumptions Economists Make is the best book I've read about the ideas and practices of economists. With great respect, curiosity, insight, and wit, Jonathan Schlefer has given readers a sense of how the models and metaphors of economics inform our most important public policy debates. He manages to connect the theories that economists produce--and the assumptions that go along with the theories--to economists' varied, influential roles in public life as policy makers and public intellectuals. (Rawi Abdelal, Harvard Business School)

Not a history of economic thinkers, this is an examination of their prevailing assumptions, from Adam Smith to the present. Schlefer asserts that macroeconomic models failed to guide government policy before 2008 because economists got their neoclassical theory wrong, and he blames the economic troubles of 2008 and beyond on the instability of private financial markets. He disputes factors such as supply and demand, technology, and unionization as causes of the current recession, noting that many believed the "supply of better-educated workers increasing relative to lower-skilled workers would cause their pay premium to fall" when just the opposite happened. (Joanna B. Conrad Library Journal 2012-02-15)

A lucid, plain-spoken account of the major economic models, which [Schlefer] introduces in chronological order, creating a kind of intellectual history of macroeconomics. He explains what the models assume, what they actually demonstrate--and where they fall short. (Binyamin Applebaum New York Times blog 2012-04-16)

Fascinating...[Schlefer's] book is a tough critique of economics, but a deeply informed and sympathetic one. (Justin Fox Harvard Business Review blog)

This book is an impressive and informative analysis of the economics literature--and it presents some useful insights about how a more eclectic, catholic approach might allow economics to progress more convincingly into the future. (Michelle Baddeley Times Higher Education 2012-04-19)

The Assumptions Economists Make is a valuable book for readers who like to argue, reflect, and advance knowledge. (A. R. Sanderson Choice 2012-09-01)

The Assumptions Economists make [is] a knowledgeable...broadside against neoclassical economics...Schlefer's gripes concern model-building run amok...His criticisms of these models are original and sophisticated. (Christopher Caldwell Literary Review 2012-12-01)

About the Author

Jonathan Schlefer holds a Ph.D. in political science from MIT and is the author of Palace Politics: How the Ruling Party Brought Crisis to Mexico, as well as articles for The Atlantic and other publications. He is currently a research associate at Harvard Business School.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Jackal on May 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I really like the idea of looking at the assumptions different economists have made. Unfortunately, the author has not been able to accomplish this task in a very structured manner.

First of all I don't think the author set out to do this in a systematic manner. He presents examples of economists' models and then sets out to critique their assumptions. This ad hoc approach is not great for the reader who want to get a systematic overview. In addition, the book does not contain any summary figures or tables. At the very least I would have expected some tables with economists/schools on top and a line by line description of their assumptions. However, this would have been a more systematic book, which I don't think the author had the intention to write.

Given the lack of structure, I wonder who the target audience is. It is clearly not written for economists. On the other hand, I think the book is too difficult if you haven't studied economics. Maybe the author is trying to target readers with other social science backgrounds.

In certain sections of the book the objective seems to be "let's do some economist bashing". This is apparent especially in the beginning chapters. Fortunately, the book becomes more objective later on. This leads me to believe that the audience of the book is other social scientists critical of economics. Since they are already converted, one does not have to work so hard.

If you want to read this book for learning about the the assumptions, there will also be a problem of credibility. The author is not an economist, but he seems very clear about his dislike for certain assumptions that he does not like. The serious lay-reader is totally left wondering to what extent other people agree or disagree.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. Davis on June 24, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Is the information you absorbed in your intro eco classes,e.g. supply/demand curves, gross oversimplifications of how the economy actually works? Jonathan Schlefer argues persuasively that is the case. The book is a tough but fair criticism of the economics profession. His thesis is that the models and assumptions that economists act on are incredibly flawed and therefore have led to absurd conclusions. Some examples are rational expectations, the invisible hand, Say's "Law" (side note: Schlefer argues,and I agree, economists should stop using that word), and numerous other principles of economics are theories that don't work in the real word. Schlefer concedes that some economists have challenged the conventional wisdom of their profession, but that isn't enough to make economics a real science. He argues that even with adjustments, these and assumptions models most economists start with are so flawed they are doomed to failure.

Read the book, but don't stop with just this one. There are a number of similiar books on this subjects that I would also recommmend, two that come to mind are:
Steve Marglin The Dismal Science
Jonathan Aldred The Skeptical Economist
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Otis the Beagle on June 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The view that a free market economy is self-regulating and efficient is widely believed and plays a crucial role in supporting certain policy positions. Schlefer explores the roots of this view in early classical economics, its elaboration in neo-classical economics, criticisms of the view in Keynesian economics, re-establishment of the view in the new classical theory of the late late twentieth century, and reasons for skepticism about the fundamental idea. The book is not an easy read, but it is well worth the attention of anyone seeking to understand economic theory and public policy. The author does express a position but is honest in noting difficulties that attach to his favored theories as well as other points of view.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Richard H. Burkhart on June 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a political scientist Johnathan Schlefer was appalled by the gross failures and incoherence of economics in the public arena, so he decided to try to figure out what was going on. This book is the result - a good introduction for outsiders (also mis-educated insiders) to the dysfunctional state of modern economics. Especially why it is more ideology than science and how it got there.

Yet the reader longs for a new paradigm for understanding and doing economics, not just a critique of bad models. Schlefer does marshall some elements of a new paradigm - rejecting ludicrous assumptions and concepts and even citing recent nonlinear and agent based modeling. Unfortunately he leaves us without a new vision, which I suggest should take its inspiration more from current climate science than from 19th century physics.

Climate science takes complexity seriously and relegates simplistic models to subordinate roles, eagerly taking knowledge from every relevant field and incorporating it into vast scenarios as parameters and submodels to simulate the chaotic processes that characterize climate change. Seems a good match for global economics. Yet it seems that few economists have the right training or inclination, and powerful forces care more about ideological backing for their political agendas than about what real world economics might reveal.

Schlefer has consulted a number of economists, even read their books and studied their mathematical models, so he gets off to a good start by debunking Adam Smith's "invisible hand" based on the Arrow-Debreu result that general equilibrium models are inherently unstable. That is prices, supply, demand, and the like don't naturally converge to stable values in free and competitive markets, as most economics textbooks still preach.
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