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The Clash of Economic Ideas: The Great Policy Debates and Experiments of the Last Hundred Years Paperback – April 9, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"For all of White's evident Austrian commitment, he steadily tenders to his adversaries a Hayekian courtesy. He is widely read, and the book's references constitute a stimulating reading list. And he writes well: each chapter opens with an engaging incident that beckons the reader to read on."
Economic Record

Book Description

The Clash of Economic Ideas explains what economists have been disagreeing about for the last hundred years. It covers disputes over the free market, socialism, fascism, the Great Depression, the New Deal, war, nationalization, central planning, economic growth, money and finance, inflation, regulation, free trade, government spending, budget deficits, and public debt. It puts the debates in historical context, and discusses how economic ideas have influenced swings in economic policy. It traces the ideas of modern economists back to their immediate and sometimes distant forerunners to understand the origins of today's debates.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1st edition (April 9, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 110762133X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107621336
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #197,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By George Hariton on May 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is amazing how much the author can pack into 400 pages, The writing is clear and entertaining, leavened by anecdotes and sketches of some very famous economists. Yet the author covers hotly debated issues in enough depth that the reader can understand what the opposing positions were, and why people held them. This is particularly important to a lay reader, as some positions may seem so weird that an uninformed reader may wonder why anyone could reasonably hold them. After White's explanations, they become plausible, even if not convincing to a twenty-first century reader.

To take just one example, Hayek long advocated privatization of money, i.e. government should get out of the business of printing (or minting) money and let competing private sector issuers do it. Sounds absurd, but White shows the logic in terms that can be understood by a lay reader, and that might be informative to a professional economist.

While White covers a great many issues, the common thread is the scope of government versus the scope of private enterprise and market forces. Thus at one extreme Oskar Lange claimed that, now that we had computers (written around 1950), bureaucrats could calculate a proper price for everything and there is no need for free markets to set prices (or for any other reason). At the other extreme, James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock argue that governments usually act to please special interests, including bureaucrats and certain producers, at the expense of the general taxpayer.

The centerpiece of the book, however, is the argument between Keynes and Hayek, as to whether government should massively intervene when the ec0onomy turns down, or whether market forces should be allowed to play out.
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Format: Hardcover
A great book. The debate over ideas between Keynes and Hayek during the 1930s couldn't be more relevant to the current discussion on the recent recession and the right economic policy to get the economy going again. Pick up a copy of the New York Times and the arguments couldn't be more similar. But this isn't a dry book, you see the lively debates and the personalities behind them with lots of interesting personal facts sprinkled in. You learn not only the arguments that were made, but which ones the partisans in these battles regretted that they made and what they learned from their mistakes. White is one of the few people who could bring together such a broad range of sources together in such a readable way.

The book is much broader than the Great Depression covering everything from the debate over the proper role of government in the great Socialist Calculation debate to free trade to the debates behind what White entitles "The Growth of Government" (though this chapter was much too short).

I still have my criticisms. For example, I would have included a lot more economists in some of these debates, and I think that it is arbitrary who is given credit for making some arguments. For example, Donald Wittman's discussions about the efficiency of Democracies ignores the fact that Gary Becker had already made the central argument in 1976 in the JLE (of course, there were other less well known economists such as Earl Thompson who made a whole career making these arguments and published some of them in the JPE). And the book has a strong GMU bias in terms of which arguments it considers. And I disagree with some of the arguments.

But despite those minor quibbles, it is a strong book that is well worth the read.
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Format: Hardcover
The chapters highlight key historical events (eg Great Depression in the 30s, German strong growth in the 50/60s, stagflation in the 70s). Each chapter also introduces some economists and their ideas aimed at dealing with the problem at hand. While the book chapters are chronological, the economists and their ideas are only roughly chronological. Sometimes a chapter backtracks to introduce the ideas of older economists. The overall structure of the book works very well.

The economic explanations are not very complicated and you do not need any background in economics to understand the book (except probably when it comes to discussions about interest rates). This is both a strength (large potential audience) and a weakness (only scratches the surface). Actually, I think the book would be ideal for readers interested in social/intellectual history. A good overview is achieved by digesting this book. There are also loads of useful references to the seminal works in the history of economic thought. It is also not bad for people with economic training who what a historical perspective - and that really should include all macroeconomists. Then it will serve as a great first reader (and you can subsequently follow the numerous references to find the original sources).

Alternatives:
- This book compares favourable to Blaug's Economic Theory in Retrospect. Blaug's book is much more detailed when it comes to economic theory, but does not have the somewhat broader economic history focus. Blaug's book is originally written decades ago and some of the details are no longer that relevant.
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