Home > The Economics Profession > Best economics read of 2012

Best economics read of 2012

from Edward Fullbrook

I have a policy of not taking economics books on holiday.  Philosophy yes, literary fiction always, genre fiction sometimes, occasionally books on physics written by physicists, but economics never.  Recently however the rule was broken.  Economists and the Powerful by Norbert Häring and Niall Douglas went with me to Majorca and it was a rewarding and enjoyable mistake.  Like F. Zaman’s RWER paper which I reviewed yesterday, and for similar reasons, it is an important book for understanding the times in which we live.   For both works, the role of power in the economy and the successful efforts of the ultra-powerful and their minions to keep their doings off society’s radar is the central theme.

Häring and Douglas detail how the real-world contexts out of which economic doctrines came to be created, in other words, all that stuff that should be in a History of Economic Thought course, but probably never is.  Their concept of power vis-a-vis economics includes the Pentagon.  The book abounds with fascinating historical detail.  Here is an example. 

It is hard to overestimate RAND’s impact on the modern economic mainstream let alone modern society. As a quick indicator, to date, some 32 recipients of the Nobel (Memorial) Prize, primarily in the fields of economics and physics, have been involved or associated with RAND at some point in their career.  Among other things, it had a big role in de-emphasizing empirical real-world oriented research in favour of axiomatic, mathematical deduction across the fields it touched. RAND was an important source of funds for the Cowles Commission in the 1950s.  The Cowls Commission, funded by the businessman of the same name, would be the most important driver of the advance mathematical formalization of the neoclassical mainstream after the war. In 1951, it received almost a third of its funds from RAND and another quarter from the Office of Naval Research. [p. 23]

Unlike the rest of us, the powerful were and remain fully cognizant of the importance of narrative to the functioning of societies.  Häring and Douglas show how, possessed with this knowledge, the powerful set out to change society’s basic storylines in so far as they inhibited their ambitions.  Above all else this meant changing the discipline of economics.  “Changing the discourse” became for the ultra-powerful a strategic goal, and this book – you really should read it and it is not expensive – documents the processes by which economists and their institutions were and remain corrupted.   As products of that discipline, economists — sometimes even non-neoclassical ones – tend to be oblivious of the strategic role that intersubjective forces play in shaping and controlling economies.   Häring and Douglas’s book aims to diminish that ignorance.

. . .  it was not an improvement of knowledge or tools that led to the shift from classical and institutional economics to today’s “anti-government – neoclassical – rational choice” mainstream.  It was the result of a redefinition of what economics should be concerned with – from a fair to an efficient allocation of resources – an effort that was generously funded by businessmen and the military in the name of cementing the power and legitimacy of their selves and their beliefs within society in a post-1929 Depression ideological Cold War world.  It has become time, especially in light of the 2008/2009 financial crisis and the fact that the West won the Cold War two decades ago, to reacquire the power to substantially change how we perceive our economic behaviour, and in so doing to reacquire the power to behave better in the future than we have until now.  [pp. 25-6]

Economists and the Powerful

  1. November 9, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    In other words, there is a reason for why “economics” should be re-branded back to “political economy” because the “economics” brand represents a sly way of suggesting exclusivity from more than one possibility like the “science” brand applied to investigative methods in the natural world realm.
    The brand “political economy” in contrast suggests that prescriptions for, and descriptions of, economic behavior are related to the interests of of various societal groupings.

  2. robert r locke
    November 9, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Thanks Edward for sharing this with us. As an historian it pleases me to see the study of history used in this fashion. As one who lived through the era it all rings true. I was on the losing side in the battle against the new managerialism, the old Left was neutralized by the new power brokers so ompletely that the robber barons of the 19th century (depicted in Parrington’s Pulzer Prize History of 1928, Main Currents of American Thought) vanished from the Amerrican mind in this post war era (illustrated by Alfred D/ Cjajdler’s winning of tgh Hisstory Pultizer Prize in 1978 The Visible Hand knights of the boardroom are the new heroes. the 20th.

  3. BFWR
    November 9, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    “Economics and economic theory, whether or not economists want to admit it, is presently inextricably involved with wealth and the power it wields. It has never truly broken free from the influence of that power, and as the saying goes…..the rest is history.”


  4. Rob Johnson
    November 12, 2012 at 4:17 am

    See also Mary Furner’s wonderful study Advocacy vs Objectivity

  5. Deniz Kellecioglu
    November 12, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Thank you for this recommendation. I have now ordered the book, and look forward to read it.

  6. anca H
    November 16, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    very interesting and relevant opinions of the author. It is true that globalization is a game involved with “positive sum or equal”. But when in a game, a player is the referee, how we count?

  7. Kopano Matsaseng
    December 19, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    I have recently recieved a my order of this book and cannot wait to “dig in” too!

  8. Bruce E. Woych
    December 20, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    This is an opportunity to unify a common cause and re-unite purpose with the dissemination of knowledge that has broken down with market base specialization and professional myopia. There is no reason why the global movement in “actuating” economics in real time can not join in directly or share in a renewed interest in pure “relevancy” and substantial significance with a meaningful collaboration. Ethnography and hetero-economics is a perfect match!
    Regards to all: and Happy New Year;
    Bruce E. Woych, cultural anthropology


    HAU, Journal of Ethnographic Theory, is a new, international, peer-reviewed, open-access and copyleft journal which aims to situate ethnography as the prime heuristic of anthropology, and return it to the forefront of conceptual developments in the discipline. The journal aims to publish online suitable manuscripts within six months from their receipt.

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    HAU takes its name from Mauss’ Spirit of the Gift, an anthropological concept that derives its theoretical potential precisely from the translational inadequations and equivocations involved in comparing the incomparable. Through their reversibility, such inferential misunderstandings invite us to explore how encounters with alterity occasion the resurgence and revisitation of indigenous knowledge practices. As an online journal, HAU stresses immediacy of publication, allowing for the timely publication and distribution of untimely ideas. Aiming to attract the most daring thinkers in the discipline, regardless of position or background, HAU also places no restriction on further publication of material published by the journal.

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  9. Bruce E. Woych
    December 20, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Economists and the Powerful: Convenient Theories, Distorted Facts, Ample Rewards (The Anthem Other Canon Series)

    Norbert Häring (Author), Niall Douglas (Author)

  10. Bruce E. Woych
    December 21, 2012 at 12:03 am

    Worth Viewing:
    The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of The World by Niall Ferguson Epsd. 1-5 (

  11. Bruce E. Woych
    December 21, 2012 at 3:00 am

    ( a striking state of the world statement summary…2012-2013 )
    The Mayan 2012 Prophecy: Orwellian “End of the World” Doomsday is “Made in America”
    By Prof Michel Chossudovsky
    Global Research, December 19, 2012
    Url of this article:


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