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New Ideas from Dead Economists: An Introduction to Modern Economic Thought Rev Sub Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 71 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0452280526
ISBN-10: 0452280524
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Over 150 years ago, Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle dubbed economics the "dismal science." But it certainly doesn't seem that way in the skillful hands of Todd G. Buchholz, author of New Ideas from Dead Economists. In this revised edition of a book first published in 1989, economics is accessible, relevant, and fascinating. It's even fun--for example, when he uses the cast of Gilligan's Island and Henny Youngman jokes to explain complex economic theories. "Why not have the last laugh on Carlyle by using the dead economists themselves to reverse their bad reputations and to teach the lessons they left to us?"

Buchholz surveys and critiques economic thought from Adam Smith's invisible hand of the 18th century to the depression-fighting ideas of the Keynesians and money-supply concepts of the 20th-century monetarists. He also relates classic economic principles to such modern-day events as the fall of communism, the Asian financial meltdown, and global warming. Buchholz includes plenty of anecdotes about the lives of the great economists: Karl Marx, for instance, was an unkempt slob; David Ricardo, the early-19th-century English politician and economist, was among the rare economists to get rich trading stocks; and Maynard Keynes was so homely his friends called him "Snout." Here's a lively and authoritative read for those interested in the past, present, and future of economics. --Dan Ring

From Library Journal

Any book that wants to acquaint the general reader with the history of economic thought must be compared to Robert L. Heilbroner's classic The Worldly Philosophers (S. & S., 1980. 5th ed.). This new book compares most favorably. It is easily accessible to a general audience. Buchholz, a former Harvard economics professor now teaching at the California Western School of Law, is especially strong in discussing the development of economic thought after World War II. Highly recommended for all libraries as an effective and entertaining introduction to economists and their ideas.
- Richard C. Schiming, Mankato State Univ., Minn .
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Plume; Rev Sub edition (April 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0452280524
  • ISBN-13: 978-0452280526
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151,612 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I enjoyed this book. Todd Buchholz gives his readers a good, well-written introduction to most of the major schools of economics. His portraits of the "dead economists" who launched and powered these various schools are excellent, as are his summaries of each of these schools. (Fortunately, not all of Buchholz's "dead economists" are dead: Ronald Coase, Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, and Robert Lucas, among others, are thankfully still alive.)
I will recommend this book to non-economists who ask me for an accessible introduction to economic analysis.
Only a few nits are worth picking. One is that, from time to time, Buchholz mentions an interesting fact without providing a reference. For example, in his chapter on Public Choice economic, he illustrates the reality and size of pork-barrel politics by reporting the finding of an (unnamed) researcher who "calculated that for the price of the $200 billion highway bill [enacted by Congress in 1998], the U.S. could literally pave the streets with gold (gold-plating, that is)." I wanted to check out this study, but could find no citation to it.
Another nit is that, again in his chapter on Public Choice economics, he should have introduced his readers to the term, and concept, of rent-seeking.
A third (and really small) nit is that he mistakenly reports that Thomas Sargent shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in economics with Robert Lucas. Not so. Sargent is not, at least yet, a Nobel laureate.
Especially nice are (1) Buchholz's exploration of Keynes's attitude toward government, (2) his explanation of the deepest problems with Marxian economics, and (3) his very able treatment of rational-expectations economics. But please don't read this paragraph as suggesting that Buchholz performs well only in these areas. Again, from beginning to end, this is a very sound and very useful effort.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Note first of all that there are two editions of this book floating around: the one from 1989 and the one from 1999. Both of them have the same covers, the same author, the same everything: but there is a world of difference between the two.

In short, go with the latter, called (inconspicuously) the "Revised Edition." (Many websites are selling both indiscriminately; Amazon is not -- the one on this page is safe to buy.) The one from 1989 is ridiculously outdated: it still makes many references to the Soviet Union; the dollar is still strong; the Euro has yet to come into existence; the Asian Tigers have yet to rise, etc. It's like watching a TV show from the 70s!

Now, to the book itself: it is amusing and informative, but it is seriously misnamed. A more accurate -- but not as catchy -- title would have been: "A Precis of Modern Economic Thought via the Ideas of the Great Economists." For that is, ultimately, what you're getting. The ideas are certainly not "new," except perhaps from the point of view of someone who was previously ignorant of them.

The book proceeds -- in narrative fashion and without graphs -- to give a chronological history of economics by means of the ideas of the great economists. One strong point in the author's approach is that even when you feel he's ardently at variance with an idea whose discussion is required, he is still very fair to it.

Specialized knowledge of economics, math, or history is not required, and the author does much to keep the book readable.

Alas! the book gets bogged down in the later stages, when discussing the debate between the Keynesians and the monetarists.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Those of us who were cranked through government-run schools probably all had similar high school economics classes. I seem to remember spending more time studying the machinations of the Fed and doing words and terms than taking economics seriously as a branch of philosophy.
This book was a welcome surprise. Desperate for some much-needed education on economics, I took a recommendation and read this book. What a treasure! Buchholz entertains with wonderful biographical sketches of the more prominent economists; it is interesting to see how their lives influenced their thinking (John Stuart Mill's remarkable life-change is something I found striking). The analogies used to demonstrate certain principles, including such modern icons as the cast of Gilligan's Island, clarified the author's point while providing a chuckle. Buchholz seems to favor "laissez-faire" government and clearly prefers certain theories over others, but he gives fair treatment to all mentioned: Adam Smith gets significantly more ink than Thorstein Veblen, but Keynes and Marx, although the author is neither Keynesian nor Marxist, are written about in great detail and each have their own chapter.
Obviously, this book is not geared towards folks who already know about economics. But, unlike other introductory texts, this one is not only thorough but effective. After reading it, I felt very confident in my ability to comprehend today's financial headlines; I cannot recommend it enough.
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Format: Paperback
If you're after a rough outline of how economics got where it is today, and who the people behind the subject's founding ideas really were, then the Dead Economists is a great place to start. Buchholz kicks things off with the invisible hands of Smith/Hayek, and then breezes through the lives and ideas of Malthus, Ricardo, Mill, Marx, Marshall, Veblen, Galbraith, Keynes and Friedman. The final two chapters get broader and cover Public Choice and Rational Expectations.

Strange as it may seem, there's nothing really on Schumpeter, Frank Ramsey, Robert Solow, Joan Robinson, Irving Fisher or Robert Mundell to name but a few - although, I suppose, these individuals didn't really lead economics off in truly new directions. But Nobel Prize winner Mundell was largely responsible for starting international economics as we know it. It's odd that he's not even mentioned.

Still for non-specialists, there isn't that much theory and what there is comes in easy to understand sketches of where the big ideas came from and what these mean for the world we live in today.

Overall I liked the Dead Economists, although I can understand why some people might think it a bit light. The author likes a joke. Some readers don't. It reads like pulp history. Some don't like that. My view is that if you already know your dismal science, then this is a nice, easy read and it gives lovely insights into the lives of economics' greatest thinkers. Alternatively, if you're a novice and you like a bit of history, then NIDE should suit your needs just fine.
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