Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk among Us

Princeton University Press
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In the graveyard of economic ideology, dead ideas still stalk the land.

The recent financial crisis laid bare many of the assumptions behind market liberalism--the theory that market-based solutions are always best, regardless of the problem. For decades, their advocates dominated mainstream economics, and their influence created a system where an unthinking faith in markets led many to view speculative investments as fundamentally safe. The crisis seemed to have killed off these ideas, but they still live on in the minds of many--members of the public, commentators, politicians, economists, and even those charged with cleaning up the mess. In Zombie Economics, John Quiggin explains how these dead ideas still walk among us--and why we must find a way to kill them once and for all if we are to avoid an even bigger financial crisis in the future.



Zombie Economics takes the reader through the origins, consequences, and implosion of a system of ideas whose time has come and gone. These beliefs--that deregulation had conquered the financial cycle, that markets were always the best judge of value, that policies designed to benefit the rich made everyone better off--brought us to the brink of disaster once before, and their persistent hold on many threatens to do so again. Because these ideas will never die unless there is an alternative, Zombie Economics also looks ahead at what could replace market liberalism, arguing that a simple return to traditional Keynesian economics and the politics of the welfare state will not be enough--either to kill dead ideas, or prevent future crises.


In a new chapter, Quiggin brings the book up to date with a discussion of the re-emergence of pre-Keynesian ideas about austerity and balanced budgets as a response to recession.

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About the author

John Quiggin is professor of economics at the University of Queensland in Australia.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
May 21, 2012
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Pages
288
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ISBN
9781400842087
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economic History
Business & Economics / Economics / Theory
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The economics profession in twentieth-century America began as a humble quest to understand the "wealth of nations." It grew into a profession of immense public prestige--and now suffers a strangely withered public purpose. Michael Bernstein portrays a profession that has ended up repudiating the state that nurtured it, ignoring distributive justice, and disproportionately privileging private desires in the study of economic life. Intellectual introversion has robbed it, he contends, of the very public influence it coveted and cultivated for so long. With wit and irony he examines how a community of experts now identified with uncritical celebration of ''free market'' virtues was itself shaped, dramatically so, by government and collective action.

In arresting and provocative detail Bernstein describes economists' fitful efforts to sway a state apparatus where values and goals could seldom remain separate from means and technique, and how their vocation was ultimately humbled by government itself. Replete with novel research findings, his work also analyzes the historical peculiarities that led the profession to a key role in the contemporary backlash against federal initiatives dating from the 1930s to reform the nation's economic and social life.


Interestingly enough, scholars have largely overlooked the history that has shaped this profession. An economist by training, Bernstein brings a historian's sensibilities to his narrative, utilizing extensive archival research to reveal unspoken presumptions that, through the agency of economists themselves, have come to mold and define, and sometimes actually deform, public discourse.


This book offers important, even troubling insights to readers interested in the modern economic and political history of the United States and perplexed by recent trends in public policy debate. It also complements a growing literature on the history of the social sciences. Sure to have a lasting impact on its field, A Perilous Progress represents an extraordinary contribution of gritty empirical research and conceptual boldness, of grand narrative breadth and profound analytical depth.

A masterful introduction to the key ideas behind the successes—and failures—of free-market economics

Since 1946, Henry Hazlitt’s bestselling Economics in One Lesson has popularized the belief that economics can be boiled down to one simple lesson: market prices represent the true cost of everything. But one-lesson economics tells only half the story. It can explain why markets often work so well, but it can’t explain why they often fail so badly—or what we should do when they stumble. As Nobel Prize–winning economist Paul Samuelson quipped, “When someone preaches ‘Economics in one lesson,’ I advise: Go back for the second lesson.” In Economics in Two Lessons, John Quiggin teaches both lessons, offering a masterful introduction to the key ideas behind the successes—and failures—of free markets.

Economics in Two Lessons explains why market prices often fail to reflect the full cost of our choices to society as a whole. For example, every time we drive a car, fly in a plane, or flick a light switch, we contribute to global warming. But, in the absence of a price on carbon emissions, the costs of our actions are borne by everyone else. In such cases, government action is needed to achieve better outcomes.

Two-lesson economics means giving up the dogmatism of laissez-faire as well as the reflexive assumption that any economic problem can be solved by government action, since the right answer often involves a mixture of market forces and government policy. But the payoff is huge: understanding how markets actually work—and what to do when they don’t.

Brilliantly accessible, Economics in Two Lessons unlocks the essential issues at the heart of any economic question.

Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime?

These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing—and whose conclusions turn conventional wisdom on its head.

Freakonomics is a groundbreaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and journalist. They usually begin with a mountain of data and a simple question. Some of these questions concern life-and-death issues; others have an admittedly freakish quality. Thus the new field of study contained in this book: Freakonomics.

Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, Levitt and Dubner show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives—how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. In Freakonomics, they explore the hidden side of . . . well, everything. The inner workings of a crack gang. The truth about real-estate agents. The myths of campaign finance. The telltale marks of a cheating schoolteacher. The secrets of the Ku Klux Klan.

What unites all these stories is a belief that the modern world, despite a great deal of complexity and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and—if the right questions are asked—is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking.

Freakonomics establishes this unconventional premise: If morality represents how we would like the world to work, then economics represents how it actually does work. It is true that readers of this book will be armed with enough riddles and stories to last a thousand cocktail parties. But Freakonomics can provide more than that. It will literally redefine the way we view the modern world.

Bonus material added to the revised and expanded 2006 edition

The original New York Times Magazine article about Steven D. Levitt by Stephen J. Dubner, which led to the creation of this book.

Seven “Freakonomics” columns written for the New York Times Magazine, published between August 2005 and April 2006.

Selected entries from the Freakonomics blog, posted between April 2005 and May 2006 at http://www.freakonomics.com/blog/.

Economic analysis of choice under uncertainty has been dominated by the expected utility (EU) model, yet the EU model has never been without critics. Psychologists accumulated evidence that individual choices under uncertainty were inconsistent with the predictions of the EU model. Applied work in areas such as finance was dominated by the simpler mean-variance analysis. In the 1980s this skepticism was dispelled as a number of generalizations of EU were proposed, most of which were capable of explaining evidence inconsistent with EU, while preserving transitivity and dominance.
Generalized expected utility is now a flourishing subfield of economics, with dozens of competing models and considerable literature exploring their theoretical properties and comparing their empirical performance. But the EU model remains the principal tool for the analysis of choice under uncertainty. There is a view that generalized models are too difficult to handle or incapable of generating sharp results. This creates a need to show that the new models can be used in the kinds of economic analysis for which EU has been used, and that they can yield new and interesting results.
This book meets this need by describing one of the most popular generalized models -- the rank-dependent expected utility model (RDEU), also known as anticipated utility, EU with rank-dependent preferences, the dual theory of choice under uncertainty, and simply as rank-dependent utility. As the many names indicate, the model has been approached in many ways by many scientists and for this reason, consideration of a single model sheds light on many of the concerns that have motivated the development of generalized utility models.
The popularity of the RDEU model rests on its simplicity and tractability. The standard tools of analysis developed for EU theory may be applied to the RDEU model, but since RDEU admits behavior inconsistent with EU, the field of potential applications is widened. As such, the RDEU model is not as much a competitor to EU as an extension based on less restrictive assumptions.
An unimpeachable classic work in political philosophy, intellectual and cultural history, and economics, The Road to Serfdom has inspired and infuriated politicians, scholars, and general readers for half a century. Originally published in 1944—when Eleanor Roosevelt supported the efforts of Stalin, and Albert Einstein subscribed lock, stock, and barrel to the socialist program—The Road to Serfdom was seen as heretical for its passionate warning against the dangers of state control over the means of production. For F. A. Hayek, the collectivist idea of empowering government with increasing economic control would lead not to a utopia but to the horrors of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

First published by the University of Chicago Press on September 18, 1944, The Road to Serfdom garnered immediate, widespread attention. The first printing of 2,000 copies was exhausted instantly, and within six months more than 30,000 books were sold. In April 1945, Reader’s Digest published a condensed version of the book, and soon thereafter the Book-of-the-Month Club distributed this edition to more than 600,000 readers. A perennial best seller, the book has sold 400,000 copies in the United States alone and has been translated into more than twenty languages, along the way becoming one of the most important and influential books of the century.

With this new edition, The Road to Serfdom takes its place in the series The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek. The volume includes a foreword by series editor and leading Hayek scholar Bruce Caldwell explaining the book's origins and publishing history and assessing common misinterpretations of Hayek's thought. Caldwell has also standardized and corrected Hayek's references and added helpful new explanatory notes. Supplemented with an appendix of related materials ranging from prepublication reports on the initial manuscript to forewords to earlier editions by John Chamberlain, Milton Friedman, and Hayek himself, this new edition of The Road to Serfdom will be the definitive version of Hayek's enduring masterwork.
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