Hayek, by far my favorite economist, gets overlooked by a vast majority of those engaging in political discourse or those studying economics. Too often he is dismissed as a “free market shill”, a “greedy capitalist”, or another form of right wing pundit. For certain figures I admire, this very well may be true, but Hayek is profoundly different.
Hayek’s break from other libertarians is in that he doesn’t rest his argument on a particular case for natural rights to homesteaded property, or on the efficient allocation of resources that come from markets. Hayek’s argument rests on first the infallibility of government to centralize economic or social knowledge, and second in the ability of liberty to open up previously unopened paths that manifest themselves in spontaneous order.
If that seemed complicated don’t worry! Because there is a book for you! The Essential Hayek by George Mason Economist Donald Boudreaux. In less than 80 succinct pages you will understand basic concepts that underlie Hayek’s work. To me what was most interesting was the point that people believe they can apply small scale planning structures like the family to the nation. An idea that might seem intuitive to some, but is woefully misguided.
I recommend for absolutely everyone.
8.5 out of 10
“But nobody can be a great economist who is only an economist – and I am even tempted to add that the economist who is only an economist is likely to become a nuisance if not a positive danger.”
I can’t seem to get enough of the writing style of Deirdre McCloskey. I’m not sure if it’s the comfortable sarcastic tone of her prose or the fact that I’m able to relate as an economist. And by sheer luck, I was able to obtain a signed copy of How to be Human (Though an Economist). The signature is addressed to Cynthia, so I hope Cynthia whoever you enjoyed the book enough to sell your signed copy (apparently the exchange value was greater than the use value).
This book is a collection of essays written mostly for various journals and newspapers. They are grouped into 15 sections, each being a rule for economists to follow in order to achieve humanity. Well not precisely. They are more of a much-needed ethics handbook for economists. A Hippocratic Oath for economists if you will.
Some essays focus on the life and attitude of a particular economist to follow among whom are Armen Alchian, Friedrich Hayek, and James Buchanan. Others cover particular issues McCloskey sees in the attitude of modern day academic economists. Some are as simple as how to properly run a seminar.
The central piece of advice, running through all the chapters, is to avoid an attitude of sneering at other disciplines as “less scientific” or “inefficient”, and in fact trying to incorporate these ideas into our own discipline may be useful. McCloskey’s critique of economics as a whole is that we have left our roots as primarily storytellers about the way that people act in the world and try to gain a sense of intellectual security in mathematical equations. She often goes back to Adam Smith to remind us of his oft-neglected other book The Theory of Moral Sentiments. After all, he thought of himself first as a moral philosopher who accidentally sprung to life the discipline of economics on the side.
I recommend this book mostly for those who are in the economics world themselves. Those from outside our sphere will enjoy some of the stories and can still take much of the advice, but some examples may not be as directly applicable. One complaint stems from the fact that these are a collection of essays not written with the intention to bind together so a lot of the ideas overlap and it can feel quite redundant at times. However, what is repeated is so important that it really can’t hurt that much.
8.5 out of 10.
Edit: I didn’t know the definition of pedantic.