Erik's Reviews > Grand Pursuit: A History of Economic Genius

Grand Pursuit by Sylvia Nasar
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Nov 26, 11

Read from October 09 to November 26, 2011

Sylvia Nasar has written this book as a PBS series with lots of personal details over intellectual backbone. Smooth writing but no prizes for not taking on the tough issues and ideas. You would think Marx made no contribution whatever to the discussion, quoting Keynes' blunt (and unfair) dismissal as a final judgment. However, there are some good things. She does a good job of conveying Alfred Marshall's claim to fame, having to do with discrediting some of the extreme socialist ridicule of business productivity and wages while at the same time demolishing Ricardo's so-called Iron Law of Wages. I still think he is wrong, especially today, that business exists for the sake of productivity gains and results in higher wages because more skilled workers are needed. Not true when productivity gains go to the top 10% of business owners without raising wages at all. Not true when businesses become inefficient monopolies. It's not automatic that wages will rise with skills and productivity AT ALL. But the facts then were on his side and not with Marx. Maybe that's because the lowest rung was bare subsistence, and anything in comparison with that was bound to look like progress. Story of Beatrice Potter, aka Mrs. Webb is outlandish and fantastic. I really want to read The Minority Report now that I know that's not just a Philip K Dick title. Keynes was almost a quarter of the book, again focusing more on his life and personality. In all, however, this book has a strong bias against the left and socialism. Continually their views are scorned and treated as naive. There was little about anything post world war two, just a few sketches but no in depth treatment of the post-war recovery, or the stagflation of the 70s, or the most recent financial crises in the 90s and 08. No discussion of Greenspan and his clones and the damage they have wrought. No discussion of the damage Reagan and his disciples did. I think you could write a whole chapter on how politics and ideology has poisoned economics today. Her "blue sky" ending really pissed me off. It is anything but obvious that the system is eternal and she seems blind to objections about growing wealth inequality, falling real wages, and other issues. The crisis of 2008 gets two sentences at the end. So things are better than when Dickens wrote a Christmas Carol...so what????
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