This review is from: Machiavellian Economics (Hardcover)
I hate to say it, but this book is deeply disappointing. Written in the mid Eighties, when the fashion was to be a parody of Norman Tebbitt and be highly cynical and heartless, it is a rather dull attempt to apply the concept of the inimitable Machiavelli onto economics.
This book should have been so good - as it says on the back it should be 'digested and challenged but not ignored'. Unfortunately it has only achieved the first and has very little that stands out from the text and makes you follow it passionately.
Machiavellian Economics starts off with a section on Machiavelli himself, where the idea is expounded that Machiavelli's teachings can be transferred onto Economics, and that we can learn from past and present to predict sage policy for the future. This argument is quite well done and his idea does have some merit - that somehow you can use Realpolitik in Economics the same way Thatcher did.
However, these ideas are not really fleshed out in the next section, where they should have been. The Comic dictionary definition of an Economist being 'an accountant with less personality' is proven in this section, where there is little in the way of engaging argument, cutting insight or witty analogy. It's not that its too complicated, it's that it doesn't really get complicated enough, but rather just faffs around with wishy washy Economic planning ideas, which used to be in fashion in the Seventies, but have since died off.
In the next thrilling section the author tries to apply Machiavellian Economics to Economic problems of the day such as Inflation, unemployment and Unions. To be fair to this section, there are some good bits in it, like his suggestion that Nationalisation and Privatisation are the same as both allow the government the same amount of undue Economic influence. However, by the section of Armaments and Economics, the pretentious tone of the author in trying to expound cynical insights into the way the world works gets rather tiresome. One can say all this 1984 rubbish about greedy selfish government, although it doesn't always ring true - as Machiavelli himself observed in saying that a Prince should be loved rather than hated.
In the last section, the author tries to bring the threads together to suggest that Machiavelli has many lessons to teach Economics. However, these lessons are pretty vague and don't really amount to much.
Truth is that Economics cannot simply be explained by either cynicism or idealism, but some blend of the two - in crude terms, you need both the stick and the carrot. Although Machiavelli argues his case well in The Discourses and The Prince, books that try to stretch his ideas to other fields tend to be pretentious as they are trying to be as shocking as Machiavelli, but are failing miserably.
To use a name check that the author uses, Adam Smith is a far superior way of understanding Economics in the real world. If you really want to understand Free market Economics, you should read either The Wealth of Nations or The Road to Serfdom in preference to this.
P.S. After writing this review, I discovered this: The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World. Unlike this book, Jonathan Powell does an excellent job of applying the insights of Machiavelli to present day economics AND politics, mainly because he uses extensive referencing of Machiavelli's works and benefits from first-hand experience of front line politics, both of which are absent from this book...