Adam's Fallacy: A Guide to Economic Theology Paperback – 6 May 2008
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Foley gets deep into the analytical content of major schools of thought, ranking Adam's Fallacy up there with Heilbroner's classic.--Robert Solow"New York Review of Books" (11/16/2006)
Duncan Foley has written a fair-minded and very well-written history of economic thinking organized by the theme announced in his title. He contends that economic thinking has been dominated by fallacious attempts to separate positive analysis from moral judgment. This leitmotif has enabled him to create a unified presentation, which will be very useful to the general reader.--Kenneth Arrow, Stanford University
This learned and lively book reconnects economics to the complexities and conflicts of politics and society, and powerfully reminds us that there are no fixed, necessary, or inevitable laws that govern markets. By tracing the history of economic thinking as a form of engagement with values and policies, it also thoughtfully beckons us to grasp together the twin challenges of scientific understanding and moral reasoning.--Ira Katznelson, Columbia University
"Adam's Fallacy" is a stimulating tour d'horizon of the ideas of the great economists. In clear, accessible prose, Duncan Foley, a noted theorist himself, describes what they wrote and what their work means today, providing an insightful and thought-provoking critique of economics.--Stanley Engerman, University of Rochester
Adam's Fallacy is a stimulating tour d'horizon of the ideas of the great economists. In clear, accessible prose, Duncan Foley, a noted theorist himself, describes what they wrote and what their work means today, providing an insightful and thought-provoking critique of economics.--Stanley Engerman, University of Rochester
So what is 'Adam's Fallacy?'...It is the idea that the economic sphere of life constitutes a separate realm 'in which the pursuit of self-interest is guided by objective laws to a socially beneficent outcome'...Professor Foley's book is simultaneously an introduction to economic theory and a critique of it. It is his version of the classic introduction for the economically challenged by Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers, now in its seventh edition. Adam's Fallacy concentrates more on the worldly philosophies rather than on the philosophers, on economic theory rather than on the characters and events that along with Mr. Heilbroner's masterly storytelling gave The Worldly Philosophers so much color and verve...By questioning economic theory's cordoning off of an economic spheres of life ruled by its own laws and expertise, Professor Foley is implicitly proposing limits to the secularization that is an underlying characteristic of modernity. Secularization has meant that in a cultural transformation, major areas of human activity set themselves up as quasi-autonomous, with their own standards, authorities, and guiding principles.--Peter Steinfels"New York Times" (11/25/2006)
[A] passionate book, to be welcomed in a discipline notably devoid of passion. [Adam's Fallacy] can be read for pleasure and enlightenment by economists and non-economists alike.--David Throsby"Times Literary Supplement" (03/23/2007)
About the Author
Duncan K. Foley is Leo Model Professor at the New School for Social Research.
Top customer reviews
Foley believes that Smith, in his 1776 classic The Wealth of Nations, commits a fallacy in believing that self interest when interacting with markets in the capitalist economic system creates a more desirable moral system as members of the economy are forced to, as a result, develop an interest and regard for others. There are a number of good reasons why Smith would believe this: property rights for example provide a springboard to self-interest economically speaking (such as owning business premises) whilst engendering a sense of regard for others (only functions if everyone respects each others business premises). Foley, a vehement opponent of this position, gives a good reason why this has proved not to be the case: capitalism has caused widespread socio-economic inequalities, hardly a symptom of care for others and a charitable society.
Foley goes on to give concise, clear and at times quite breathtaking reviews of some of the greatest economist-philosophers of all time. At times it is quite bizarre just how he manages to fit in and explain so clearly several concepts in the space of just a few pages. He begins with Adam Smith, the focal point of the book, before systematically moving onto Malthus, Ricardo, Marx, Veblen and finally Keynes, with other more peripheral contributors in between such as Joseph Schumpeter and Vilfredo Pareto. What Foley does so well here is to pick out what is really important to know; providing the reader with a comprehensive understanding of each scholar with just the right amount of depth to keeping things both highly informative and very readable. For Smith for instance, Foley goes into great depths on the Division of Labour and Value Theory but less so on his theory of International Trade, as that aspect of Smith is complicated and not necessary to understand his general position and contribution to economics.
One minor quibble is that Foley fails to provide any damning textual evidence for Smith actually committing 'Adam's Fallacy.' This is a problem given that this concept features not only in the title but is referred to throughout the book. Foley defers to other academics to bring out direct textual references, but to be convinced that Smith makes this fallacy I would have liked to have seen it here. Nonetheless, this is exactly the kind of book that will be enjoyed by anyone interested in economic ideas and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Of course, even in the "hard" sciences, ideology creeps in - and not just at the level of the observer affecting the observed. The very questions that many hard scientists choose to address come from an ideological stance, but their methods are intended to be scientific, and the same methods can be used in the social sciences, such as economics. Social scientists face a more difficult problem that their theories can change the societies they are studying. Foley makes a great contribution to understanding this problem.
The key issue addressed by Foley is how Smithian thinking (that the invisible hand is "good" and the economics that spring from perfect equilibrium are the best way of organizing society) can be fallacious. It is surprising how deeply embedded (often unconciously) in assumptions used by economists this has become. It have become almost a requirement to assume in economic theory e.g. "rational consumer behaviour" or the existence of a global social optimum, with associated conditions required by neoclassical economic theory. With this approach, mainstream economists have ended up declaring that the best outcome in a cost-benefit model of global warming is one with indefinite and probably accelerating climate change. (See the works of William Nordhaus and his followers). In these analyses, the risk-avoidance is turned into a negative economic return to ofset benefits from higher (private) consumption of (usually) marketable products. The value-laden assumptions behind the analyses are left largely undisclosed or for the expert to know.
Foley shows how such assumptions and models are based on ideology (or theology as he calls it). If you have ever suspected that much of economics as taught and practiced was purveying hidden ideological messages about the goodness of selfish and short-sighted behaviour at personal and national levels, then this is the book for you.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Inevitably, the book has been compared to Robert Heilbroner's "The Worldly Philosophers." Bottomline: "The Worldly Philosophers" is a FAR better introduction for students coming to economics for the first time. "Adam's Fallacy" can't be appreciated without a fair amount of background knowledge, as much of it is written to defend the relevance of Classical economics to current problems and to criticize neoclassical ways of thinking about economics. A neophyte wouldn't understand what the fuss is about.
The book should be required reading - not just in Economics Departments, but for elected officials as well. Three cheers for Duncan Foley!!
He reviews the efforts economists have made since Smith to avoid the entanglement of the mechanisms of capitalism from the social and political results and judges they have all failed.
Good reading, and answered questions I've been pondering for a long time.
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