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Mainline Economics: Six Nobel Lectures in the Tradition of Adam Smith Paperback – September 16, 2016
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The work starts with a powerful introduction covering core ideas from Adam Smith related to the nature of human action and the role of institutions which are the heart of Mainline economics (versus Mainstream Economics – what is currently fashionable in the field) as well as an overview of the six thinkers and their Nobel Prize lectures. The six lectures from Friedrich Hayek, James Buchanan, Ronald Coase, Douglass North, Vernon Smith and Elinor Ostrom and chock full of ideas and insights which are applicable inside and outside of economics.
I learned a lot from each of these lectures and I know I will be re-visiting this work frequently to further chew and digest the ideas and insights I discovered on nearly every page. I made extensive notes in the margins as I went along and found myself frequently re-reading passages throughout the book.
The two lectures I spent the most time with were Vernon Smith’s “Constructivist and Ecological Rationality in Economics” (especially the parts on intentions, reciprocity, and conserving cognitive resources) and Elinor Ostrom’s “Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems”. These two lectures demonstrate the importance of field studies and experiments in testing, refining and improving our concepts and understanding. Both lectures discuss counter-intuitive insights and experimental results that led to the questioning and revising of key assumptions in the field of Economics.
Ostrom’s essay is one I am already taking insights from and applying in my chosen field (program management) based on the key points she makes regarding polycentric orders, governance, mechanisms for understanding and utilizing feedback loops, trust and teams. There are several figures in the book that helped me better visualize some of her key insights.
I believe this collection of lectures brilliantly demonstrates the lasting value of Mainline Economics. As Ostrom notes at the end of her lecture: “…a core goal of public policy should be to facilitate the development of institutions that bring out the best in humans.”
This collection should help anyone who reads it assist in working to achieve that shining goal.
Note – I would highly recommend reading this in conjunction with Peter Boettke’s book “Living Economics” as it will give you further details and context on Mainline Economics.