Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Kurz, Economic Thought: A Brief History

If you’re looking for a short but masterful overview of the course of economic thought, Heinz Kurz’s book, translated from the German by Jeremiah Riemer (Columbia University Press, 2016), might be just the ticket. In a mere 185 pages Kurz takes the reader from ancient Babylonian clay tablets, “perhaps the first national income account in human history,” to modern developments such as game theory and behavioral economics.

The chapter titles indicate the span of this book: early economic thought; classical economics; Marx and the socialists; the rise of marginalism; Marshall and the theory of partial equilibrium; utilitarianism, welfare theory, and systems debate; imperfect competition; Schumpeter and the principle of creative destruction; Keynes and the principle of effective demand; reactions to Keynes; general equilibrium theory and welfare theory; and developments in selected fields.

Kurz’s book is dense but eminently readable. What makes it especially worthwhile is that it traces ideas, even as developed by lesser known economic theorists. It is definitely not a redux of Robert L. Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers. It’s a book about ideas, not famous people. Kurz evaluates these ideas and assesses their contribution to the development of economic thought.

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