In this fascinating character-driven history, a New York Times editorial writer and Pulitzer Prize finalist spotlights the American economists who championed the rise of markets and fundamentally reshaped the modern world.
Before the 1960s, American politicians had never paid much attention to economists. But as the post-World War II boom began to sputter, economists gained influence and power - first in the United States and then around the world as their ideas inspired nations to curb government, unleash corporations, and hasten globalization.
Milton Friedman's libertarian ideals, Arthur Laffer's supply-side economics and Paul Volcker's austere campaign against inflation all left a profound mark on American life. So did lesser-known figures like Walter Oi, a blind economist whose calculations influenced President Nixon's decision to end military conscription; Alfred Kahn, who deregulated air travel; and Thomas Schelling, who put a dollar value on human life.
The economists promised steady growth and broadly-shared prosperity, but they failed to deliver. Instead, the single-minded embrace of markets has come at the expense of soaring economic inequality, the faltering health of liberal democracy, and the prospects of future generations.
Timely, engaging, and expertly researched, The Economists' Hour is a "powerful must-read" (Mohamed A. El-Erian, New York Times best-selling author) about the rise and fall of a revolution - and a compelling call for people to retake control of markets.
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"I very much enjoyed reading The Economists' Hour, an entertaining and well-written look at how market-oriented ideas rose from the academy and transformed nations. I do not agree with each and every perspective, but found this a valuable and highly recommendable book, which I devoured in a single sitting." (Tyler Cowen, author of The Great Stagnation)
"Binyamin Appelbaum has written a powerful must-read for all those interested in reinvigorating the credibility of economics, especially in policymaking circles. Through an engaging discussion of how economists' influence grew and spread, he shows how free-market economics evolved into an over-promising 'affirming religion', only to disappoint too many of its followers and lead others astray. His insightful analysis also helps us identify what's needed to ensure that the market economy remains 'one of humankinds most awesome inventions.'" (Mohamed A. El-Erian, author of New York Times best sellers When Markets Collide and The Only Game in Town)
"Writing in accessible language of thorny fiscal matters, the author ventures into oddly fascinating corners of recent economic history...Anyone who wonders why government officials still take the Laffer curve seriously need go no further than this lucid book." (Kirkus)
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- Fountain of Chris
One-sided ridicule of economists
This is not necessarily a criticism of the book, but it almost seems like this was written in 2009, stored on a hard drive for a decade, and then had a concluding chapter slapped on so it could be published in 2019. What I mean is that one should not go into this expecting a detailed breakdown of how what economists did from 1960-2010 got us to where we are today.
As one would expect from a lead writer on The New York Times' Editorial Board, the book is well-written and accessible. It is written for the layperson, but does have a rather obvious leftward bias. That doesn't make it right or wrong, but it is something to be aware of going in. Appelbaum chooses Milton Friedman as his principle antagonist, with a shift toward Greenspan in the book's final chapters.
You'll be left with a generally negative perception of economists, whether or not that was Appelbaum's intention - My guess is that it was. There is no mention of liberal economists like Paul Krugman or Robert Reich, passing reference to Joseph Stiglitz, and nothing said about Thomas Piketty's 600-page bestselling economics book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century".
I thought "The Economist's Hour" as a concept had a lot of potential. There are a lot of growing pains associated with economics as it has come to prominence, but I think Appelbaum let his initial thesis be combined with confirmation bias as he made his case.
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