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read New Ideas From Dead Economists instead
on July 1, 2003
I've read both Worldly Philosophers by Robert Heilbroner and New Ideas From Dead Economists, by Todd Buchholz. I wanted to get a good rounded layperson introduction to great economists in the past.
However, I found Heilbroner's book to be neither useful to the layperson nor to people who have a good background in Economics. Let me explain.
Heilbroner spends a LOT of time in awe of these economists and spends a great deal of time explaining how great they were, how revolutionary, how brilliant, how much of a genius, how wonderful these men were, ad nauseum. Ok, I get the point. Unfortunately, all this fawning and fan worship clouds what should've been the more interesting and more important part of the book, which are the central economic ideas put forward by these thinkers. In fact, there's a lot of emphasis on putting their economic ideas in perspective to the prevailing moral philosophical thought at the time.
It's almost as if this books is written for people who have already taken Economics 101, and know all the basic economic principles and can nod, "yes, uh huh, I didn't know those personality quirks or their moral philosophical outlook about these economists - good to know. By the way, it's great that he didn't go over his economic ideas since I already know them."
For example, the entire chapter devoted to David Ricardo fails to mention the theory of Comparative Advantage anywhere in the chapter. Isn't that a MAJOR omission? That's just one example. Omissions such as this are everywhere.
So the layperson is stuck getting a vague feeling that these people were wonderful people, but that a little less fuzzy on their ecnomic ideas. It also leaves a person with economics background feeling like this is less a book about economics and more a book about Heilbroner's fan worship.
Neither audience is served. I can't recommend this book.
Right after I read this book, I read Todd Buchholz's New Ideas From Dead Economists.
Where Heilbroner failed, Buccholz succeeds in so many ways. He puts the central ideas of these economists as the main focus of each chapter. When talking about David Rircardo, the theory of Comparative Advantage is front-and-center. When talking about Marx, Heilbroner meanders and throws a lot of Marx's ideas around and you don't get a sense of how they all fit together in Marx's mind or why modern economists find fundamental flaws in his reasoning. In Buccholz's book, the central point is Marx's ideas, how they fit together and it's very clear why most economists (and the reader) will find Marx's basic premise wrong in light of emperical evidence. This goes on and on.
I initially thought Heilbroner would be a good read, since it was recommended by econ majors when I was in college and they'd never heard of Buccholz's book. I'm glad I read both.
Do yourself a favor and don't waste your time/money - read the better book.