Mark Blyth – the top five books on how the world’s political economy works

Here is a compelling interview with political economist Mark Blyth, author of Austerity: the History of a Dangerous Idea, discussing his top five books on how the world’s political economy works. He includes works by Keynes, Polanyi, Hirschman and Moore.

I admit that of the five I have only read Keynes’ General Theory. I have also dipped into some of Albert Hirschman’s writings, though not these two. Even if you don’t plan to read them, the interview with Blyth is worth a look, as he summarises what he sees as the key insights from each of the five books.

Below is an excerpt from the beginning of the interview:

“Well…[the world’s political economy]…doesn’t work according to the textbooks. If you look at economic textbooks, the whole world is meant to work according to the logic of differential calculus; there are these reciprocal relationships – one side goes up and one side goes down. But deep within it there’s a paradox. On the one side you have Adam Smith, where everyone is pursuing their own self-interest leading to an outcome which is better than any of them could have intended. On the other, you have John Maynard Keynes. Today Keynes is thought of as someone who just talks about deficit spending and so on, but that’s just complete rubbish. Keynes’s central message is that individual rational action can be collectively disastrous. So, if you have a series of economic models in a text book where everything balances out, it’s much more attuned to the world working the way that Smith would like to tell us.”

3 thoughts on “Mark Blyth – the top five books on how the world’s political economy works

  1. There’s a lot to digest there. Leaves me wondering, not for the first time, if economics as a science has any purpose in existing any more. The mathematics, along with everything else, is just pseudo-science if all the underlying assumptions are meaningless and corrupted. Economics as we know it deserves to be laid to rest as a new chapter in one of my favourite reads; Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds – still in print after 180 years.

    • I think that’s a little pessimistic. Though mainstream economics was somewhat discredited by the financial crisis, and for me needs to draw more on other disciplines to remain relevant, economics still has a place in explaining quite a lot about the world. For me, non-mainstream or heterodox approaches have more to offer.

      • Clearline, I have moments when I feel like you about mainstream economics.

        I also agree with Nick.

        I really like the way Nick handles economics in his wonderful blog.

        Economics may never attain the status of a science — still. much is to be gained by approaching it the scientific way — and that it is what Nick does — among other things — by being critical, open-minded, sensibly multi-disciplinary, and respectful of diverging and alternative views.

        I do not adhere to any -isms, including Keynesianism — to the best of my ability, for it is impossible to be perfectly impartial, unbiased and without ideological predilection.

        However, I value Keynesianism and other heterodox approaches to economics like Institutionalism or Modern Monetary Theory to the extent that they provide what is most needed to advance any science (or project deserving to be approached scientifically): sound challenges.

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