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If you only read one book this summer….

5 Aug, 09 | by Søren Holm

I would have liked to be able to say that if you only read one book this summer you should read “Handbook of Econonomics and Ethics” and if I was only writing about the contents I would surely say that.

This is one of the most interesting books I have come across for years and its 75 chapters covers most of the important intersections between economics and ethics, primarily seen from the point of view of economics. For someone like me with a background in ethics it is interesting to see how orthodox economics struggles with concepts like “altruism” or how non-consequentialist theories of ethics are all, in their own way completely incompatible with orthodox economic thinking. Another set of very interesting chapters are the chapters discussing the main figures in economics and ethics.

This is a book that repays careful study and a ration of 2-4 chapters per day is probably about right.

Unfortunately it is also a very expensive book. One hundred and sixty British pounds (160 GBP) for a book of 624 pages is rather extortionate, even though it is a nice hardback and you can get 10% off if you order directly from the publisher. So my advice will have to be modified. If you only read one book this summer AND your library has a copy of “Handbook of Ethics and Economics” then borrow it ASAP and make that the book you read.

Link to the publishers web-site http://www.e-elgar.com/Bookentry_Main.lasso?id=4252

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  • Keith Tayler

    It is a bit late for this but I cannot help making comment on the cost of this work. It would appear to be another example of a growing list of books and papers from economists who are having to come to terms with how intellectually bankrupt their disciple has become over the last thirty of forty years. Charging a £160 for a book about how out of touch economics has become with the real world of human interaction is just plain bizarre. Obviously the contributors to this book do not wish for it to be read, or at least they only want a few academics to read it (who cares about university library costs?).

    One of the problems from which economics has been suffering is that it has built far too much on the concept of “home economicus“, i.e. the somewhat two dimensional “human” that is claimed to have been created by political economist of the 18th and 19th century. In the 20th century this creature was further simplified by evolution theory, game theory, decision theory, and anything that looked like something was been done with mathematics. This creation has had its critics, but there has been a belief among too many economists that ‘It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest’ and that the ‘invisible hand’ could be made visible to the mathematical inner eye. Of course Smith never understood his fellow man in such simplistic terms or that mathematics could be so insightful. Prudence he believed to be the most useful virtue and ‘humanity, justice, generosity, and public spirit, are the qualities most useful to others.’ He greatly distrusted all ‘dealers’ in the market and recommended that their activities should be regulated but not by them. He was in favour of maximising wages and constraining profits. Structures (or systems) were prior for Smith (above David Hunter‘s blog). In short, systems are complex and humans are not ’rational choice’ makers that can be mathematically objectified.

    So what’s this got to do with the price of books? Well Smith was opposed to monopolies which included patients and copyright. For him ‘The only benefit one would have by writing a book, from the natural laws of reason, would be that he would have the first of the market and may be therefore a considerable gain.’ Expensive books protected by copyright should be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, as we know from a letter to his publishers, when it came to his own books he tried to keep the maxim length of copyright. Smith, like economists of today’s “information age,” might have been heard muttering ‘Save me Lord from the vice of copyright, but not yet.” Another example of the plain bizarre.

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