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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classical economics in tatters, 10 July 2001
By A Customer
How long has it been since you sat through those economics lectures and eagerly, if somewhat overwhelmed, scooped up the wisdom of demand and supply, equilibrium and interest rates? You may have wondered why there never were any numbers on those graphs and who came up with the shapes, but the confidence of the teacher never implied that those truths were to be subject to further inquisition.
It's time for mental revenge.
Will Hutton stops at nothing to explode any of those textbook axioms of modern day neo-classical economics. Actually, he really only wants to prove that he is the first to ever understand what John Maynard Keynes' theory was all about, and, of course, that he was right. But in the process, by trying to mercilessly undermine any foundation of liberal economics, he gives a comprehensive account of the history of economics. Also, in trying to be fair, he describes the defendants' assumptions of the classical models - before he trashes them - and thus helps a great deal to refresh what was left of them in non-expert reader's memory. While it may help to have the old textbook at hand to retrace some of the details that Hutton could not include lest losing the elegance of gliding through intellectual stratosphere, in general the book is accessible to anyone with mild pre-exposure to economics.
Of course, being used to textbook writers who worry about the cognitive capacities of their audience and adjust their sentence architecture accordingly, it may take a bit of stamina to crawl along some multi-line sentences with very creative punctuation, let alone containing some jargon that is unavoidable given the topic. But if you manage to get used to this and attempt to read cover-to-cover you are in for a rare reward: Not unlike an action plot, his well planned assault creates some sense of suspense: What will be his next move, what other monstrous inconsistency will he expose and what logical gymnastics will he perform to oppose it? He makes you want to take on the next chapter even when the current one has exhausted your concentration to the limit. And he has a talent to leave just enough breadcrumbs on his path of thought for the reader to follow him through some diversions and some proofs that Spinoza would be proud of. He even builds in some redundancy to make individual chapters readable on their own or as reference.
Since he is striving to bolster his opinion, it is forgivable when he sometimes commits the fallacies he is accusing his opponents of: Especially when denouncing the idea of a spontaneous equilibrium he occasionally does not take his arguments to the end... (So supply and demand curves do not have to converge - what kind of shapes would that imply? parallel?)...or comes across a little propagandistic (So classical understanding of aggregate demand as the sum of all sub-markets is drastically different from Keynes' aggregate demand, defined as cutting across all sub-markets and separated into two categories?)
Overall the book offers more entertainment than you would expect to get from a discourse on modern economic theory. And with remarkable didactic skill it leads the reader through the complexity of economics and the theory of Keynes as interpreted by Hutton. Sadly, it also leads to the realisation that recession seems to be an inevitable result of free markets and that the modern interpretation of economics by governments is doing little to prevent that.
The read arms you with enough ammunition to turn the next conversation on economics into a refreshing debate in which anybody taking side for most government economic action may not fare too well.
That's why economics teachers might want to get a hold of it before their students do.
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