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5.0 out of 5 stars A necessary supplement to your economics textbook?, 23 Mar 2013
This review is from: The Economics Anti-Textbook: A Critical Thinker's Guide to Microeconomics (Paperback)
'The Economics Anti-Textbook' is not, as one might infer initially from its title, merely an alternative perspective to that of the mainstream economics that is the basis of the vast majority of school and undergraduate-level economics textbooks. The authors have something larger in view: the need for the systematic restoration to economics teaching at those levels of the political, sociological, behavioural and ethical factors and concerns that elementary economics teaching for the most part omits. This is an important matter, because most people receive little or no education in economics beyond the level of these textbooks; subsequently, they will depend for their information and views on politicians and businessmen who in many instances have received only the same sort of education themselves.

Hill and Myatt subject the standard economics textbook to a thoroughgoing critical examination, in search not merely of its obvious simplifications - the crucial importance of the over-idealised supply-and-demand-model of competitive markets, for example - but with a view to identifying the pervasive ideological assumptions that underlie what is presented as objective fact. They establish beyond reasonable doubt that economics is necessarily a form of rhetoric - a way of speaking about economic activity - rather than a true science, and that economics teaching obfuscates this fact by excluding from consideration dimensions of economic activity that cannot be reduced to mathematical expression.

In particular, in the authors' view, standard textbooks often ignore - or confine to footnotes, addenda and late chapters - the difficult and inconvenient themes of differences of power between economic actors, the positive role of regulation, the legal framework governing economic activity, and the observable facts of imperfect information, negative externalities and irrational and non-economic motives - all the things that characterise economic activity in the real world.

This systematic marginalisation of important themes and perspectives means that the typical student of economics forms an early and persistent view of his or her subject that serves an underlying rhetorical purpose: to normalise capitalist free-market economics as the indisputable authority on the subject of human economic behaviour. Drawing on the resources of sociology and behavioural economics, Hill and Myatt demonstrate that the theoretical models of neoclassical economic theory, too often presented as objective truth, are in dispute, and that even where coherent these models are habitually held to apply to real-world situations in which their governing assumptions and simplifications are not operative. The authors demonstrate that truth in economics often takes a back seat to the profession's need to validate its own authority in a context of pervasive pro-capitalist political rhetoric - and that this has led to a damaging continued dependence on exploded economic models that work only in the classroom (and sometimes not even there).

This book is not a simplistic anti-capitalist, redistributionist rant. It is never suggested that the study of economics - even neoclassical micro-economics - is pointless: only that the teaching of economics needs reform. The ideal use for the 'Anti-Textbook' would be alongside a standard text, as an introduction to the idea of a normative economics for students who may already suspect that the positive, supposedly neutrally descriptive economics taught in schools and colleges is not the whole story. The authors' argument is carefully made and reinforced with a wealth of suggestions for further reading and classroom questions. Matters are clearly explained with a minimum of mathematics, although some acquaintance with basic economic concepts will undoubtedly help the reader with the more complex and less intuitive ideas.

'The Economics Anti-Textbook' should be readable by an intelligent A-level student. I also recommend it for anyone who has ever wondered why so much seems to be missing from the standard economics textbook, why core economic models seem so unrealistic, why economists so often shy away from questions of values - or how it is possible for highly educated professional economists to be so often and so catastrophically wrong in economic matters.
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