But apart from this contemporary mood, the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Taken from The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money pg 383 by John Maynard Keynes
As far as I am concerned what you are about to read can only be described (in the British vernacular) as ‘brilliant’. Brian manages to bring to life the times and importance of Keynes in his introduction to The General Theory taught as a 4th year seminar course at the University of Guelph. It should be read by all who love or hate Keynesian economics. (Those who don’t really care are of course exempt.) If you are interested at all, you will find this text a pleasure to read.
See SSRN downloads for all of his lectures
Lectures on Keynes’ General Theory by Professor Brian Ferguson winter 2013:
Lecture 1: Chapter One, Background and Historical Setting
John Maynard Keynes’ General Theory of Employment, Interest and Prices is one of those rare books which actually deserves to be labeled revolutionary. Regardless of one’s take on Keynesian macroeconomics, the publication of the General Theory marked a major change in the way economists thought about macroeconomic issues. Indeed, Keynes can be credited with (or slammed for) creating the concept of macroeconomics. Arguably, prior to the General Theory, most professional economists thought of the macroeconomy in a general equilibrium sense, as an aggregate of a large number of individual markets, and they assumed that the analysis of how individual markets behaved could be carried over pretty much unchanged to the collection of markets which constituted the economy as a whole. There was, it seemed, no need to think of the economy as anything other than the sum of its parts, and an understanding of how those parts worked was sufficient to understand how the economy as a whole worked. After the General Theory, that no longer held. Economists started to think in terms of aggregates.
Few people would claim to know very much about economics, perhaps seeing it as a complex and esoteric subject with little relevance to their everyday lives. Introduction to The Economics Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained by DK (with contributors and Niall Kishtainy acting as the consultant editor)
If I ever teach a course in the History of Economic Thought, I would use this book as a text. I love the structure (I became a fan when I bought the similar Philosophy Book) because it suits how I think. (In fact, my book Cocktail Party Economics: The big ideas and small talk about markets has a similar approach.) The chapters are limited to one big idea, with some pithy quotes from a famous economist. I guess great minds do think alike! I really loved their table of context (that’s right context not content) which puts that idea in historical perspective. Short and sweet. Most ideas have a biography in a box of the famous economist who was the key thinker. (Like the gossip columns in my book but mine are more gossipy.) They also have a flow chart which outlines the main components of the point for a fast visual explanation. If that isn’t clear, then old-fashioned paragraphs finish off the explanation. Unlike my book, sections are colour coded with lovely photographs to complement the time of the idea’s genesis. It is the kind of book you can read a chapter at a time and not worry about losing the plot. If you read this book you will know more about Economics than most!
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.