Mark's Reviews > Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us

Zombie Economics by John Quiggin
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's review
Dec 30, 2010

really liked it

I've read John Quiggin as a blogger for a while, mostly on the group blog site "Crooked Timber." I knew he was working on this book--he published draft passages for feedback--but didn't read the preliminary stuff and wasn't really planning to buy it. Then I see it at the local bookstores, pick it up out of curiosity and found I couldn't resist the combination of a B-movie zombie cover with chapter titles like "Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium Theory."

The basic theme is a review of intellectual economic theories that should've died by now, but still fly around among academics, wonks, or politicians. Despite the zombie theme, the writing is not that gimmicky. Explanations are lucid (at least for someone of my "took a couple courses" background) and, while frustration and passion are there, it's not just a long rant.

In general there was a split between things I had heard before, sort-of knew but hadn't thought of analytically, and actual new-to-me stuff. For example, it's pretty much obvious that anyone who profits from the status quo would be inclined to believe in the "Great Moderation," but I never thought through that academics who are finishing off a paper they've been working on for years about the end of the business cycle have an incentive to pretend the '08 recession was mild, and write Wall Street Journal op-eds making that argument. Similarly, privatization is obviously one of those things that works in some some situations and not in others, but I was completely unaware of some of the theoretical arguments about financing--and how it's affected by the relatively low returns investors accept on government bonds vs. private equity. Some other things I missed are so obvious in retrospect that I'm too embarrassed to enumerate them.

The book is IMHO so much better than Quiggin's online stuff that it was a nice reminder to me of the benefits of book-length writing, relative to web pages or even NYRB length articles. On the other hand, it was also a reminder of why listening to politicians rationalize policies induced outrage fatigue years ago.
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