What’s Wrong with Economics?: A primer for the perplexed
by Robert Skidelsky
Yale University Press (Footprint), $47.99 hb, 248 pp
It is a truth universally acknowledged that pride comes before a fall, and ‘Anyone with a historical sense would have realised that the hubristic attempt to make the world into a frontier and culture-free single market would end in tears.’ This opening salvo in Professor Robert Skidelsky’s new book is part of his answer to what is wrong with economics. Besides arrogance, this includes amorality, ahistoricism, sociopathy, over-formalisation, and unscientific dogmatism.
Skidelsky’s unsparing indictment, laid out in fourteen highly readable chapters, shows how economics transformed from a moral philosophy to the current mathematics-heavy social science favoured by governments. Included here are insights from major schools of economic thought, quotes from well-known practitioners, and descriptions of its troubled relationships with other disciplines. Skidelsky claims that over the past century economics has lost its ethical foundation and multiplicity of perspectives, replaced with models that are divorced from reality and useless in predicting crises. By the book’s end, Skidelsky recommends a wholesale reformation of the discipline’s motivation and practice: reinserting ethics and institutions and highlighting the role of uncertainty in decision-making. Without such changes, he claims, ‘it does not seem that today’s pretentious economics will be of much help’ against the modern challenges of inequality, political disillusionment, and economic crises.