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Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street Hardcover – 16 Jun 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1st edition (16 Jun. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199767203
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199767205
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 2.5 x 16.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 389,474 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

Beautifully written...A compulsive read (Samuel Brittan, Financial Times)

A Washington Post Politics 'Must Read' (Steven Levingston)

About the Author

Tomas Sedlacek lectures at Charles University and is a member of the National Economic Council in Prague, where the original version of this book was a national bestseller and was also adapted as a popular theater-piece. He worked as an advisor of Vaclav Havel, the first Czech president after the fall of communism, and is a regular columnist and popular radio and TV commentator.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Walter Stein on 18 Mar. 2012
Format: Hardcover
What can one say about this splendid book. The first impression is of astonishment at the sheer depth of Sedlacek's reading. It is a very thorough book full of most interesting source literature going back well before the start of Christianity. In addition, even to a non-economist, this book is very readable.

The two main themes are firstly that economics is over-dominated by numerical analysis and needs to recover its ethical foundations as a social science. Economics is not the only field of policy thinking which puts too much stress on mathematics and technology at the expense of broader, more value-driven concerns - our educational thinking, for example, has also lost its way in a similar fashion.

Secondly comes the theme that our overconsumption of resources - consumption being self-exciting (my words) - with consumption stimulating yet more desire for goods - all fuelled by debt, have created an unsustainable future. As example of this, Sedlacek cites the current financial crisis with the strong possibility of further worse future events.

These are well-argued themes but do raise the question of how we change the way our societies operate. After all, our present insatiable desires keep our economies running and provide employment for many.

In addition to the main themes I have attempted to summarise above, there are many, many other fascinating insights to be had. This is an excellent book, which I can warmly recommend.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Graham Mummery TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 10 Feb. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
From descriptions on the cover, Tomas Sedlacek is an interesting man. A former economic advisor to Vaclav Havel, this book has been a best seller in the Czech Republic and even, apparently, converted into a play. This book reflects such a range having references to Douglas Adams, popular films such as the Matrix, and ancient myths as well as to the great economists.

This range of interests ties in with the aim of this book to reframe and broaden the subject of economics to reflect deeper aspects of human nature. In doing this he even looks at this from an archetypal nature, even drawing on some of Jung's ideas in this. If looking at archetypes is a feature of what is sometimes called depth-psychology, this book could be described as an exercise in depth-economics, because it looks deeply into the origins of ideas that underpin the subject, exploring these in greater depth than I have seen anywhere else- though Richard Bronk's The Romantic Economist: Imagination in Economics would make for an interesting comparison.

Sedlacek argues that economics reframes many ideas that come, on an archetypal level, from other sources. To demonstrate this he attempts what he wryly calls the first economics analysis of the Gilgamesh epic, showing how it reflects the conflict between the wild and the civilized, a dilemma at the heart of economics. He also looks into how ideas from the Bible (both ancient Jewish and Christian), the Ancient Greeks, rationalism, mathematics and even emotions colour and affect one's view of reality and hence an economic viewpoint.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Stephen M. Vantassel on 31 July 2011
Format: Hardcover
Sedlacek contends that in modern economics reductionist view of humans as homo economicus, it has ignored, to its detriment, the ethical part of economics. In other words, contemporary economists have paid too much to descriptive or positive economics (what we do) at the expense of normative economics (what we should do). The result of this imbalance has been the West's naïve drive toward never ending growth that has led to crushing indebtedness and workaholism.

In short, Sedlacek wants to help us understand how various philosophical views influence our understanding of economics. Beginning with the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, Sedlacek masterfully surveys economic thought to show how different perspectives concerning the nature of reality and the good life struggled with the practical questions of how to implement ideals into contemporary society given the tensions between nature/urban, reason/emotion, markets/governments, freedom/law etc.

Through this historical review, Sedlacek removes the certainty of the economic myths of our own day and causes us to reflect on what kind of life we want to live. The author doesn't provide an answer to our contemporary economic and social woes. While disappointed with this oversight, the text is valuable because by focusing on values it helps members of opposing camps to recharacterize the debate to one that will at least provide more clarity and less heat. If you doubt the role of values in economics then simply consider how two economists can look at the same economic data and suggest diametrically opposed governmental policies.

I commend the author for correcting the contemporary misunderstanding regarding Adam Smith's notion of self-interest.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Malcolm Shearmur on 4 Mar. 2014
Format: Paperback
The Economics of Good and Evil is an attempt to put the human factor back into economics. Sedlacek reviews the evolution of thinking about economic questions since the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest surviving work of literature. He runs through the Hebrew tradition, the ancient Greeks, Christian thinkers, Descartes and the Enlightenment, to today’s maths-dominated practice. He asks why it is that ethics and morals, such a central part of economic thinking until the end of the 19th century and even Keynes, should today be almost entirely absent from mainstream economics.

Sedlacek argues that modern economic theories are as much myths as the fables about the Greek gods. In other words, they are not true, even if they have something true to say about the world. The problem today, in Sedlacek’s view, is that too many economists believe that the rational models developed to make sense of economic phenomena are more than mental constructs and actually reflect the reality. This, coupled with the view that the discipline’s reliance on maths makes it more scientific, precise and meaningful than other social sciences, has harmed the credibility of economics and more importantly, society itself. After the failure of economics to predict or prevent the financial crisis that began in 2008, it is high time, Sedlacek argues, for it to abandon its imperial claim, reassess what it can learn from history, philosophy, psychology, theology and sociology, and come back down to earth.

The overall case is clearly made, even if the argument meanders at times. This is a good book for the generalist with an interest in economics.
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