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Dismal Economics

Summary:
Although neoclassical economics relies on assumptions that should have been discarded long ago, it remains the mainstream orthodoxy. Three recent books, and one older one, help to show why its staying power should be regarded as a scandal. Mason Gaffney and Fred Harrison, The Corruption of Economics, Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers Ltd., 2006 (first published 1994).Stephen A. Marglin, Raising Keynes: A Twenty-First-Century General Theory, Harvard University Press, 2021.Alessandro Roncaglia, The Age of Fragmentation: A History of Contemporary Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, 2019.Robert Skidelsky, What’s Wrong with Economics?: A Primer for the Perplexed, Yale University Press, 2020. AUSTIN – Self-regarding

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Although neoclassical economics relies on assumptions that should have been discarded long ago, it remains the mainstream orthodoxy. Three recent books, and one older one, help to show why its staying power should be regarded as a scandal.

AUSTIN – Self-regarding economics departments at prestigious academic institutions no longer bother to teach the history of economic thought – a field that I studied at Yale University in 1977, forever compromising my academic career. Why was the topic abandoned – and even shunned and mocked? Students with a skeptical turn of mind would not be wrong to suspect that it was for scandalous reasons (as when, in past centuries, inconvenient aunts were locked away in garrets).

The four books reviewed here each uncover parts of the scandal. Three are brand new, and the other, The Corruption of Economics, first appeared in 1994 and was re-issued in 2006. Its principal author, the American economist Mason Gaffney, kept his remarkable pen flowing until passing away last summer at the age of 96.

Economics Without History

Robert Skidelsky is a historian, an epic biographer of John Maynard Keynes, and a prolific debater in the United Kingdom’s House of Lords. He calls What’s Wrong with Economics? a “primer,” and it is indeed the most accessible of the four books. Skidelsky’s education in the history of economics resembles my own: a wide reading of the classical authors – Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, and others – followed by those associated with the “neoclassical” or “marginalist” revolution of the 1870s.

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