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New Ideas from Dead Economists: An Introduction to Modern Economic Thought Paperback – April 6, 2007
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"If you read only one economics book this year, read this one.”—Larry Summers, Secretary of the Treasury for President Clinton, Director of the National Economic Council for President Obama
“Outstanding… fun to read.”—The Wall Street Journal
“This wide-ranging survey of economic thought combines a witty and clear exposition with a high degree of accuracy.”—Milton Friedman
“Precious few books… on any academic subject succeed at being witty and amusing. This is one of them. Bravo!”—William F. Buckley, Jr.
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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.
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 The one from 1989 is ridiculously outdated: it still makes many references to the Soviet Union; the dollar is still strong; the Euro has yet to come into existence; the Asian Tigers have yet to rise,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. It just goes on forever: I don't feel that Buchholz did a particularly noteworthy job of reducing the complexities of this issue for lay readers -- or even making it interesting for them.
Despite these problems, you will learn something from reading this, unless you are already familiar with the economists and the ideas he discusses. But if that's the case, what you're doing with the book in the first place is beyond me.
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.