Independent in All Things, Neutral in Nothing

Pigou and Other Wordly Philosophers

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The Wall Street Journal carried an article by John Cassidy on the economist Arthur Cecil Pigou this weekend. I enjoyed it, since I had not heard of Pigou, and I appreciate reading ideas I do not agree with, or initially agree with.Pigou seems to rely on taxation to minimize negative externalities, and subsidies to encourage positive externalities. The trouble with this notion comes from Pigou too: such actions can have various unintended consequences.

Cassidy’s review of Pigou’s work reminded me of Robert Heilbroner excellent introduction to economics, The Wordly Philosophers. Heilbroner gives the reader a simple overview of the great economists: Adam Smith, Malthus, Ricardo, Marx, Velben, Keynes and Schumpeter. I found the writing clear, cogent and unadorned: well-suited to give a background on their ideas without wading into too many technicalities.

Indeed, Heilbroner instructs simply with the title of his book, which includes ‘philosophers.’ We should recall his reminder that economics remains largely and art, a kind of philosophy; the field does not possess the scientific precision that many professors, Wall Street executives or central bankers would have us believe.


Written by Russell S.

November 30, 2009 at 11:07 pm

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