Beyond the Invisible Hand: Groundwork for a New Economics

Princeton University Press
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One of the central tenets of mainstream economics is Adam Smith's proposition that, given certain conditions, self-interested behavior by individuals leads them to the social good, almost as if orchestrated by an invisible hand. This deep insight has, over the past two centuries, been taken out of context, contorted, and used as the cornerstone of free-market orthodoxy. In Beyond the Invisible Hand, Kaushik Basu argues that mainstream economics and its conservative popularizers have misrepresented Smith's insight and hampered our understanding of how economies function, why some economies fail and some succeed, and what the nature and role of state intervention might be. Comparing this view of the invisible hand with the vision described by Kafka--in which individuals pursuing their atomistic interests, devoid of moral compunction, end up creating a world that is mean and miserable--Basu argues for collective action and the need to shift our focus from the efficient society to one that is also fair.

Using analytic tools from mainstream economics, the book challenges some of the precepts and propositions of mainstream economics. It maintains that, by ignoring the role of culture and custom, traditional economics promotes the view that the current system is the only viable one, thereby serving the interests of those who do well by this system. Beyond the Invisible Hand challenges readers to fundamentally rethink the assumptions underlying modern economic thought and proves that a more equitable society is both possible and sustainable, and hence worth striving for.


By scrutinizing Adam Smith's theory, this impassioned critique of contemporary mainstream economics debunks traditional beliefs regarding best economic practices, self-interest, and the social good.

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About the author

Kaushik Basu is professor of economics and the C. Marks Professor of International Studies at Cornell University. He is currently chief economic advisor to the Ministry of Finance of the Government of India. His books include Prelude to Political Economy: A Study of the Political and Social Foundations of Economics and Of People, of Places: Sketches from an Economist's Notebook.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Oct 25, 2010
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Pages
312
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ISBN
9781400836277
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Economic History
Business & Economics / Economics / Theory
History / Social History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Adam Smith turned economic theory on its head in 1776 when he declared that the pursuit of self-interest mediated by the market itself--not by government--led, via an invisible hand, to the greatest possible welfare for society as a whole. The Hesitant Hand examines how subsequent economic thinkers have challenged or reaffirmed Smith's doctrine, some contending that society needs government to intervene on its behalf when the marketplace falters, others arguing that government interference ultimately benefits neither the market nor society.

Steven Medema explores what has been perhaps the central controversy in modern economics from Smith to today. He traces the theory of market failure from the 1840s through the 1950s and subsequent attacks on this view by the Chicago and Virginia schools. Medema follows the debate from John Stuart Mill through the Cambridge welfare tradition of Henry Sidgwick, Alfred Marshall, and A. C. Pigou, and looks at Ronald Coase's challenge to the Cambridge approach and the rise of critiques affirming Smith's doctrine anew. He shows how, following the marginal revolution, neoclassical economists, like the preclassical theorists before Smith, believed government can mitigate the adverse consequences of self-interested behavior, yet how the backlash against this view, led by the Chicago and Virginia schools, demonstrated that self-interest can also impact government, leaving society with a choice among imperfect alternatives.



The Hesitant Hand demonstrates how government's economic role continues to be bound up in questions about the effects of self-interest on the greater good.

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.

The concept of "nudging" has hit news headlines in recent years following the implementation of nudge policies in many parts of the world, the establishment of behavioural policy units in some countries, and the award of the Nobel Prize in Economics to the behavioural economist Richard Thaler in 2017. However, questions remain about whether nudging is an optimal approach to policy-making.

This book presents a critical approach to the study of nudging to highlight the foundations, rationale and effects of current policy-making trends in the neoliberal age of behavioural economics.

In this provocative book, the author presents a re-examination of the methodological foundations of behavioural economics and its consequences for addressing the deep social and economic policy challenges of our times. It is argued that, although the concept of nudge proposed by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein rejects the theorization of economic behaviour under models of strict rationality, nudge policies focus on methodological individualism in economic thinking and economic policy.

The complexity of social and economic policy problems of the twenty-first century calls for a revision of our conceptual outlooks, and to increase recognition of the failure of methodological individualism in economics to address the unprecedented social, political, and environmental challenges of globalization. Offering a new take on the epistemological assumptions underlying behaviourally-informed policies, this book will prompt the general public to consider new ideas about the darker side of behavioural economics.

An economist's perspective on the nuts and bolts of economic policymaking, based on his experience as the Chief Economic Adviser in India.

In December 2009, the economist Kaushik Basu left the rarefied world of academic research for the nuts and bolts of policymaking. Appointed by the then Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, to be chief economic adviser (CEA) to the Government of India, Basu—a theorist, with special interest in development economics, and a professor of economics at Cornell University—discovered the complexity of applying economic models to the real world. Effective policymaking, Basu learned, integrates technical knowledge with political awareness. In this book, Basu describes the art of economic policymaking, viewed through the lens of his two and a half years as CEA.

Basu writes from a unique perspective—neither that of the career bureaucrat nor that of the traditional researcher. Plunged into the deal-making, non-hypothetical world of policymaking, Basu suffers from a kind of culture shock and views himself at first as an anthropologist or scientist, gathering observations of unfamiliar phenomena. He addresses topics that range from the macroeconomic—fiscal and monetary policies—to the granular—designing grain auctions and policies to assure everyone has access to basic food. Basu writes about globalization and India's period of unprecedented growth, and he reports that at a dinner hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Obama joked to him, “You should give this guy some tips”—“this guy” being Timothy Geithner. Basu describes the mixed success of India's anti-poverty programs and the problems of corruption, and considers the social norms and institutions necessary for economic development. India is, Basu argues, at an economics crossroad. As CEA from 2009 to 2012, he was present at the creation of a potential economic powerhouse.

The global financial crisis has made it painfully clear that powerful psychological forces are imperiling the wealth of nations today. From blind faith in ever-rising housing prices to plummeting confidence in capital markets, "animal spirits" are driving financial events worldwide. In this book, acclaimed economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller challenge the economic wisdom that got us into this mess, and put forward a bold new vision that will transform economics and restore prosperity.

Akerlof and Shiller reassert the necessity of an active government role in economic policymaking by recovering the idea of animal spirits, a term John Maynard Keynes used to describe the gloom and despondence that led to the Great Depression and the changing psychology that accompanied recovery. Like Keynes, Akerlof and Shiller know that managing these animal spirits requires the steady hand of government--simply allowing markets to work won't do it. In rebuilding the case for a more robust, behaviorally informed Keynesianism, they detail the most pervasive effects of animal spirits in contemporary economic life--such as confidence, fear, bad faith, corruption, a concern for fairness, and the stories we tell ourselves about our economic fortunes--and show how Reaganomics, Thatcherism, and the rational expectations revolution failed to account for them.



Animal Spirits offers a road map for reversing the financial misfortunes besetting us today. Read it and learn how leaders can channel animal spirits--the powerful forces of human psychology that are afoot in the world economy today. In a new preface, they describe why our economic troubles may linger for some time--unless we are prepared to take further, decisive action.

Now, more than ever, the world needs growth-oriented and socially inclusive policymaking.

Is the world giving up on the promise of ever-greater prosperity for all, on functioning democratic institutions, and on long-term peace? Is the special set of circumstances that led to the recent rapid growth in emerging markets unlikely to be present in the future? Will the second decade of the twenty first century end with “secular stagnation”? Does the rise of authoritarianism, populism, and fanatic nihilism—all experienced over the last few years—threaten to unravel what has been built painstakingly since the catastrophe of World War II?

Kemal Dervis addresses these and similar questions in this thought-provoking series of essays written for Project Syndicate from 2011 to 2015. The essays are organized in three sections: global economic interdependence, inequality and the political economy of reform, and the specific challenge of Europe.

The common theme is the need for growth-oriented and socially inclusive policymaking in an interdependent world. These kinds of policies offer the potential for another wave of unprecedented human progress aided by breathtaking new technologies. However, a huge and destabilizing disruption is possible if policymaking is not globally cooperative and is not focused on inclusion and greater equity.

These essays synthesize the experience and analysis of a scholar and policymaker with national, regional, and international experience at the highest levels. Dervis exhibits a passion for combining strongly held values with political feasibility.
A leading economist offers a radically new approach to the economic analysis of the law

In The Republic of Beliefs, Kaushik Basu, one of the world's leading economists, argues that the traditional economic analysis of the law has significant flaws and has failed to answer certain critical questions satisfactorily. Why are good laws drafted but never implemented? When laws are unenforced, is it a failure of the law or the enforcers? And, most important, considering that laws are simply words on paper, why are they effective? Basu offers a provocative alternative to how the relationship between economics and real-world law enforcement should be understood.

Basu summarizes standard, neoclassical law and economics before looking at the weaknesses underlying the discipline. Bringing modern game theory to bear, he develops a "focal point" approach, modeling not just the self-interested actions of the citizens who must follow laws but also the functionaries of the state—the politicians, judges, and bureaucrats—enforcing them. He demonstrates the connections between social norms and the law and shows how well-conceived ideas can change and benefit human behavior. For example, bribe givers and takers will collude when they are treated equally under the law. And in food support programs, vouchers should be given directly to the poor to prevent shop owners from selling subsidized rations on the open market. Basu provides a new paradigm for the ways that law and economics interact—a framework applicable to both less-developed countries and the developed world.

Highlighting the limits and capacities of law and economics, The Republic of Beliefs proposes a fresh way of thinking that will enable more effective laws and a fairer society.

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/.

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