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The Puzzle of Modern Economics
Science or Ideology?

$85.00 (P)

  • Date Published: June 2010
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9780521825542

$ 85.00 (P)

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About the Authors
  • Does economics hold the key to everything or does the recent financial crisis show that it has failed? This book provides an assessment of modern economics that cuts through the confusion and controversy on this question. Case studies of the creation of new markets, the Russian transition to capitalism, globalization, and money and finance establish that economics has been very successful where problems have been well defined and where the world can be changed to fit the theory, but that it has been less successful in tackling bigger problems. The book then offers a historical perspective on how economists have, since the Second World War, tried to make their subject scientific. It explores the evolving relationship between science and ideology and investigates the place of heterodoxy and dissent within the discipline. It is argued that, though there are problems with the discipline, economics is needed to combat the myths that abound concerning economic problems.

    • Balanced account of what economics can and cannot do effectively
    • Detailed case studies of economics in action aimed at general reader, explaining why different economists see things differently
    • Offers historical account since 1945 of science and ideology in economics
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "This perceptive guide to the state of conventional economics in the aftermath of the financial crisis shows the subject is neither as flawed as its critics claim nor as powerful as its defenders say. Importantly, Roger Backhouse helps us understand when we can rely on the standard tools of economics. In clearly defined situations, economic models - applied with good judgment - do help tackle real-world problems, but economic techniques are less useful in addressing more complex problems. This is a wise book, one both economists and their critics would do well to read." - Diane Coyle, Author of The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why It Matters

    "This beautifully written and extraordinarily insightful book will fascinate anyone interested in macroeconomics, regardless of theoretical or political orientation. Roger Backhouse is one of the few economists in the world with the breadth and depth of knowledge, acuteness of judgment, and intellectual integrity to undertake a systematic and unprejudiced evaluation of the strengths and limitations of modern economics in providing understanding of phenomena ranging from globalization to the recent financial crisis. Academic economists of various stripes will frequently disagree with aspects of Backhouse's analysis but will never fail to be stimulated and sometimes challenged. Lay readers will find the book a rewarding entry into many of the key macroeconomic debates. Simply put, The Puzzle of Modern Economics is an intellectual delight." - Steven N. Durlauf, University of Wisconsin

    "It is refreshing to find someone who sees the status of modern economics as a puzzle rather than as either a capitalist plot or the triumph of pure reason. Backhouse tries to focus on the intrinsic difficulty of making and applying theories when their object is something as complicated and variable as a modern economy. That is where the action is and where the thought should be." - Robert Solow, Nobel Laureate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    "This is a tour de force. It presents for the general reader as much as for the specialist a judicious account of why the tribes of economists often reach different conclusions about the same events and offer different prescriptions for the same problems. And it explains why the tribes with a substantially unjustified faith in free markets have long been in the ascendancy, which may now be coming to an end." - Robert Wade, London School of Economics, Recipient of the Leontief Prize in Economics, 2008

    "Does present-day economics make sense? In a half-dozen well-chosen case studies, Roger Backhouse takes the reader on a tour d'horizon of developments since World War II in order to ask: Is it a.) dangerous mathematical formalism, b.) free market ideology, or c.) a vital guide to practical action? The correct answer, he concludes, is d.) all of the above." - David Warsh, Economic Principals

    "The more I read Backhouse's book, the more I understood that it's important to distinguish economics from economics as it is typically practiced. Backhouse shows how the current mathematics-heavy top-down approach to economics is not the only one. He traces the origin of the approach--which necessarily assumes that people are rational agents trying to optimize their resources--to the 1930s, but points out that it took some 30 years to really catch on." - Barbara Kiviat, The Curious Capitalist,

    "Throughout, Backhouse implements the patient, well-balanced hand of someone familiar with handling intellectual puzzles.... An excellent resource for anyone deciding whether to trust economic knowledge.... Highly recommended." - Choice

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2010
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9780521825542
    • length: 224 pages
    • dimensions: 231 x 155 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.41kg
    • contains: 2 b/w illus. 1 table
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    Part I. Economics in Action:
    2. Creating new markets
    3. Creating a market economy
    4. Globalization and welfare
    5. Money and finance
    Part II. Historical Perspectives:
    6. Creating a 'scientific' economics
    7. The quest for rigorous macroeconomics
    8. Science and ideology
    9. Heterodoxy and dissent
    Part III. Evaluation:
    10. Economic science and economic myth
    Supplementary note on the literature.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Conceptual Foundations of Economics
    • Economic Analysis of Law
    • History of Economic Thought
    • Political Economy
  • Author

    Roger E. Backhouse, University of Birmingham
    Roger E. Backhouse is Professor of the History and Philosophy of Economics at the University of Birmingham, where he has taught since 1980, and at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. In 2007 he was Ludwig Lachmann Research Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the London School of Economics. In 1998–2000 he held a British Academy Research Readership. He has also taught at University College London, Keele University, the University of Bristol, the University of Buckingham, and the University of Oporto. Professor Backhouse is the co-editor of The History of the Social Sciences since 1945 (with Philippe Fontaine, Cambridge University Press, 2010), No Wealth But Life: Welfare Economics and the Welfare State in Britain 1880–1945 (with Tamotso Nishizawa, Cambridge University Press, 2010), and The Unsocial Social Science? Economics and Neighboring Disciplines Since 1945 (forthcoming). He also coedited The Cambridge Companion to Keynes (with Bradley W. Bateman, Cambridge University Press, 2006). Professor Backhouse is also author of The Ordinary Business of Life and The Penguin History of Economics. He has written for a number of journals, including Economica, Journal of Economic Perspectives, History of Political Economy, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, and Journal of Economic Methodology. He has been review editor of the Economic Journal, editor of the Journal of Economic Methodology, and associate editor of the Journal of the History of Economic Thought.

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