Geoffrey Blainey reviews 'A Little History of Economics' by Niall Kishtainy

For maybe one century the subject called Economics was monarch of the social sciences. Then the Western world was poorer than it is now, and many economists promised to find a pathway towards the abolition of hunger and unemployment. They also hoped to abolish war: the eager ideologies of free trade were believed by their disciples to be long-term recipes for international peace.

This Little History of Economics, beginning with the ancient Greeks, reaches 1776 after only five chapters. We see Adam Smith, after a sleepless night, walking in his dressing gown along a country road and mentally composing what ‘would become arguably the most celebrated book in the history of economics’. In The Wealth of Nations, this Scottish philosopher proposed that self-interest produced social harmony rather than chaos. As summarised in this valuable book, people do best for their nation by chasing their own interests rather than by playing ‘the Good Samaritan who wants to help strangers’.

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