My book Economyths has received a number of reviews, from publications ranging from Handelsblatt to the International Journal of Social Economics. The only seriously negative review was penned by Christopher Auld, a health economist from the University of Victoria in Canada. According to Auld, Economyths is “a terrible, willfully ignorant, deeply anti-intellectual book. The characterization of economic thought presented is ridiculous. The level of scholarship is abysmal.”
Hmm. For context, compare this with the description of the book from former Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada William White, who cited it as a Bloomberg Best Book of 2013: “Lists 10 crucial assumptions (the economy is simple, fair, stable, etc.) and argues both entertainingly and convincingly that each one is totally at odds with reality.”
Of course, it is normal for different readers to come to different conclusions about a book, but this seems extreme. So what is going on?
Feedback is always useful. But Auld’s article isn’t a review – it’s a rant.
Throughout his piece he makes numerous exaggerated, inaccurate, and misleading statements. For example, this academic economist writes that I spend “several chapters discussing the scandalous fact that economists oppose any and all government intervention to protect the environment.” Even if that were my position, which it isn’t, I wouldn’t spend several chapters discussing it (especially since the book only has ten chapters).
Auld quotes me as saying that “senior economists are ‘part of a giant global conspiracy – an attempt to distract us from the real game that is being played behind the scenes.’ (I am not making this up.)” Actually, he is making that up: the full quote is a question, and the answer is negative. He leaves out the question mark.
Auld writes that “I don’t think there’s a single sentence about what economists believe in Economyths with which I agree.” But the book’s assertions are based on or backed by quotes and papers from economists, and the book has been endorsed by leading economists such as White, and Norbert Häring, and Thomas Sedlacek, to name a few.
I was alerted to the post by a reader of my column from World Finance, who engaged Auld in the comments section of his post. Those comments have since been removed.
Auld also maintains a list of “anti-economists” on his site, who receive a similarly affectionate treatment (they are described as vitriolic, spectacularly wrong, technically incompetent, etc.). It includes, besides me, the environmentalist David Suzuki, the economist Steve Keen, and the biologist David Sloan Wilson – all people from outside the mainstream economics establishment who have questioned the basic assumptions of economics.
In another post, Auld provides a list of “18 signs you’re reading bad criticism of economics” which includes everything from “Goes out of its way to point out that the Economics Nobel is not a real Nobel” (ref Nassim Taleb) to “Cites Debunking Economics” (ref Steve Keen). Taleb and Keen, together with White, are among the few people credited with giving advance warning of the financial crisis. Silence those voices, and what hope is there to predict the next one?
In recent years, there have been growing calls from students and others to change the way economists work and teach. As Cambridge University economists Ha-Joon Chang and Jonathan Aldred note, their subject “is the only academic discipline in which a significant and increasing number of students are in an open revolt against the content of their degree courses.” A common complaint is that economists need to be more open to a range of ideas from outside their fields.
A first step would be for economists like Auld to get out of book-burning mode.