Economics Deconstructed

The Dismal Science:How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community Stephen A. MarglinHarvard University Press, 2008; 359 pages The best thing about The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community is the title. Stephen Marglin is absolutely right that something is wrong with modern economics, particularly its treatment of communities of all kinds, including the family. But the Harvard economist fails to correct the problem for two reasons: first, his ignorance of the scholastic economics that prevailed for five centuries before Adam Smith, the most important element of which described the interpersonal relations that represent the foundation of community; and second, his turning instead to sociology, unaware of how that discipline depends upon the very economic theory that he decries. At his best, Marglin traces the shift in economic thinking “from Hobbes to Smith, by way of Locke and Mandeville,” in a narrative efficiently structured around concise and apposite quotations. With equal efficiency he includes, while confining mostly to an appendix, the necessary qualifications and technical aspects of his argument. “There is dissent and disagreement in economics,” he acknowledges. “Notwithstanding the variety, the mainstream, in my view, is so dominant that the other streams have become mere trickles. . . . It is this consensus to which the term economics applies in this book.” Yet the Harvard professor’s narrative is weak at a number of points. If one asks exactly which elements Thomas Hobbes or John Locke or Bernard Mandeville or Adam Smith added to economic theory, the correct answer is “none.” As Joseph Schumpeter demonstrated in his History of Economic Analysis (1954), “The fact is that the Wealth of Nations does not contain a single analytic idea, principle or method that was entirely new in 1776.” But the same could be said of Hobbes in 1651, Locke in
Please subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.