Economics of Good And Evil: The Quest For Economic Meaning From Gilgamesh To Wall Street, by Tomas Sedlacek
I read this book because it was mentioned so often in a book I read on strong towns that I figured it was worth a read simply to better understand the context it was mentioned in, and my feelings on the book are somewhat complicated. It is hard to understand exactly what this writer is about. It is sure, for example, that he has an ulterior motive and is not laying his cards on the table openly, but at the same time he says much that can be appreciated and enjoyed even if I cannot find him to be a very trustworthy writer. The author is Czech and was involved in the politics of that small republic and he clearly has a great interest in the way that economics makes great hay out of its predictive value while also engaging in the sort of tautology that is all too common in contemporary science and thinking. I am certainly no neophyte when it comes to reading books on economics , and my interest in the economic language of the Bible is certainly something that allows me to understand the content of the book, but the author’s motive remains inscrutable and mysterious nonetheless.
The contents of this book are varied and interesting, at least. The book is divided into two parts (the first part being twice as long as the second), with seven chapters in each. After a short introduction on the story of economics from poetry to science, the author discusses economic history from Gilgamesh to Adam Smith (I), including chapters on the Epic of Gilgamesh and its dealing with the economics of friendship (1), the economic laws and realities of the Old Testament (2), the economic views of Ancient Greece (3), the way Christianity encourages spirituality in the material world (4), Decartes’ mystical materialism (5), the invisible hand of Bernard Mandeville by which private vices become public virtues (6), and the work of Adam Smith as the blacksmith of economics (7). The second, smaller, half of the book discusses various “blasphemous thoughts” about contemporary economics (II) with chapters on the history of want (8), progress and Sabbath economics (9), the bibles of economics (10), the history of the invisible hand and homo economicus (11), the history of animal spirits (12), metamathematics (13), and issues of science, myth, and faith (14) before closing with a discussion of the fact that the wild things of economics are inside of us.
Why is it that I cannot trust this book? For one, the author directly avoids a great many economists, especially those of the libertarian school like Bastiat and the Austrian Economists, not mentioning them at all, which indicates that the author has something to hide by not mentioning these particular economists. That which is not mentioned is as important as that which is. Likewise, the author’s attempts to pit Jewish against Christian economic views in the Bible suggests the author does not understand either but wishes to find some space in order to avoid encouraging obedience to biblical law and to conflate the ancients together as some sort of good economists whose views can be respected today as being more thoughtful and complete than that of contemporary economists under the illusion that their work is scientific and rational. The author’s attempts to rehabilitate Keynes’ misguided economic perspective is also deeply suspect as well, meaning that while one can take seriously the author’s critique of contemporary economic thought, the wise reader will remain cautious and skeptical of the direction the author himself and those of his ilk wish to go. One can respect a critique as far as it goes without trusting the one giving the critique, after all.
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