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A philosopher's criticism of common economic fallacies of left and right,
This review is from: Economics Without Illusions: Debunking the Myths of Modern Capitalism (Paperback)
'Economics Without Illusions' is a relatively unusual book in its genre. Written by a Canadian academic philosopher, it looks at common fallacies of economic thinking, dividing them into those most commonly encountered on the political right and those that bedevil the left. As such, it's likely wholly to satisfy partisans of neither camp. Heath's intention, however, is precisely to show how contemporary political discourse around economic matters continues to be deformed - in some cases, made impossible - by the persistence of long-exploded beliefs that have survived as dogmatic certainties because they dovetail so conveniently with particular ways of viewing the world.
The book is likely to be interesting to anybody who values clear thinking, and doubts the competence - or sincerity - of politicians and political pundits in economic matters. That said, it's likely to be of more use to readers willing to reconsider their most cherished nostrums: this suggests that those broadly on the left might benefit more.
Heath is by no means a socialist. On the other hand, he isn't an unreflecting admirer of the market. In talking about the common fallacies of the right, although he eschews easy name-calling and trumped-up moral outrage, the arguments he makes, though powerful, are relatively familiar, and their implications conventional. For me, the meat of the book is in the second half, in which he is severe on the more infantile tendencies of the left, and its steady refusal to turn its critical scrutiny on its own assumptions in the light of what has been learned from over a hundred and fifty years' consideration of economics since Marx. In Heath's view, this failure to ground its politics in a serious economics is the reason why so many leftist policy proposals cannot be taken seriously.
Having no professional background in academic economics, Heath has no professional axe to grind - though his relentless exposure of fallacious thinking on the part of economists and commentators should be embarrassing to them. As a Canadian, he has a view of the world just sufficiently displaced from the usual Anglo-American perspectives to be useful as a corrective to the tired old narratives and hackneyed examples that one encounters elsewhere. He has written this book for the intelligent general reader rather than the academic. Just occasionally I felt that his explanations were a little less clear than he believes them to be: but that is likely to be evidence of precisely the phenomenon that he sees as lying at the root of our difficulties - the failure of our education system to give non-specialists the tools with which to identify common economic fallacies, and an urgent sense of why it is important that we educate ourselves in these matters. This book is one step in that direction.