Economics alone will not guide a country that has no vital leadership, but leadership will lack for clear directions without the inspiration of an enlightened as well as an enlarged self-definition of economics. Page 321 The Worldly Philosophers: The lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers by Robert L Heilbroner
Most of the characters Heilbroner writes about are usually never mentioned in an introductory Economics class. Indeed, I would only mention Adam Smith and David Ricardo in microeconomics and John Maynard Keynes in macroeconomics. I might mention Thomas Malthus but only if the text covers the Solow growth model in some detail. I can’t say I have ever talked about Henry George. And that is what makes this book fascinating in a quirky sort of way. These men (and they are all men) Heilbroner thought were the big thinkers of their time and now many are largely reduced to footnotes in modern economic textbooks.
This book fleshes out a history of economic thought since The Enlightenment but through Heilboner’s somewhat biased eyes. His bias is left-wing so he skips right-wing thinkers like Friedrich von Hayek, and Milton Friedman who turned out to the extremely important both economically and politically. While many of the economists he does feature aren’t critical to the advancement of economic ideas (for example Henry George or Thorstein Veblen) they are nonetheless interesting people, Furthermore, they made quite a splash during their day. It is just that their influence didn’t stand the test of time.
This book is a very readable, educational and entertaining book. I think it is worth reading just to cover the lives and revolutionary ideas of Adam Smith, Ricardo and Keynes.
Tags: Evie Adomait, History of Economic thought, Robert Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers