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Adam's Fallacy: A Guide to Economic Theology

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Overview

This book could be called “The Intelligent Person’s Guide to Economics.” Like Robert Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers, it attempts to explain the core ideas of the great economists, beginning with Adam Smith and ending with Joseph Schumpeter. In between are chapters on Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, the marginalists, John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, and Thorstein Veblen. The title expresses Duncan Foley’s belief that economics at its most abstract and interesting level is a speculative philosophical discourse, not a deductive or inductive science. Adam’s fallacy is the attempt to separate the economic sphere of life, in which the pursuit of self-interest is led by the invisible hand of the market to a socially beneficial outcome, from the rest of social life, in which the pursuit of self-interest is morally problematic and has to be weighed against other ends.

Smith and his successors argued that the market and the division of labor that is fostered by it result in tremendous gains in productivity, which lead to a higher standard of living. Yet the market does not address the problem of distribution—that is, how is the gain in wealth to be divided among the classes and members of society? Nor does it address such problems as the long-run well-being of the planet.

Adam’s Fallacy is beautifully written and contains interesting observations and insights on almost every page. It will engage the reader’s thoughts and feelings on the deepest level.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books

Foley gets deep into the analytical content of major schools of thought, ranking Adam's Fallacy up there with Heilbroner's classic.
— Robert Solow

New York Times

So what is 'Adam's Fallacy?'...It is the idea that the economic sphere of life constitutes a separate realm 'in which the pursuit of self-interest is guided by objective laws to a socially beneficent outcome'...Professor Foley's book is simultaneously an introduction to economic theory and a critique of it. It is his version of the classic introduction for the economically challenged by Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers, now in its seventh edition. Adam's Fallacy concentrates more on the worldly philosophies rather than on the philosophers, on economic theory rather than on the characters and events that along with Mr. Heilbroner's masterly storytelling gave The Worldly Philosophers so much color and verve...By questioning economic theory's cordoning off of an economic spheres of life ruled by its own laws and expertise, Professor Foley is implicitly proposing limits to the secularization that is an underlying characteristic of modernity. Secularization has meant that in a cultural transformation, major areas of human activity set themselves up as quasi-autonomous, with their own standards, authorities, and guiding principles.
— Peter Steinfels

Times Literary Supplement

[A] passionate book, to be welcomed in a discipline notably devoid of passion. [Adam's Fallacy] can be read for pleasure and enlightenment by economists and non-economists alike.
— David Throsby

Kenneth Arrow
Duncan Foley has written a fair-minded and very well-written history of economic thinking organized by the theme announced in his title. He contends that economic thinking has been dominated by fallacious attempts to separate positive analysis from moral judgment. This leitmotif has enabled him to create a unified presentation, which will be very useful to the general reader.
Ira Katznelson
This learned and lively book reconnects economics to the complexities and conflicts of politics and society, and powerfully reminds us that there are no fixed, necessary, or inevitable laws that govern markets. By tracing the history of economic thinking as a form of engagement with values and policies, it also thoughtfully beckons us to grasp together the twin challenges of scientific understanding and moral reasoning.
Stanley Engerman
Adam's Fallacy is a stimulating tour d'horizon of the ideas of the great economists. In clear, accessible prose, Duncan Foley, a noted theorist himself, describes what they wrote and what their work means today, providing an insightful and thought-provoking critique of economics.
New York Review of Books - Robert Solow
Foley gets deep into the analytical content of major schools of thought, ranking Adam's Fallacy up there with Heilbroner's classic.
New York Times - Peter Steinfels
So what is 'Adam's Fallacy?'...It is the idea that the economic sphere of life constitutes a separate realm 'in which the pursuit of self-interest is guided by objective laws to a socially beneficent outcome'...Professor Foley's book is simultaneously an introduction to economic theory and a critique of it. It is his version of the classic introduction for the economically challenged by Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers, now in its seventh edition. Adam's Fallacy concentrates more on the worldly philosophies rather than on the philosophers, on economic theory rather than on the characters and events that along with Mr. Heilbroner's masterly storytelling gave The Worldly Philosophers so much color and verve...By questioning economic theory's cordoning off of an economic spheres of life ruled by its own laws and expertise, Professor Foley is implicitly proposing limits to the secularization that is an underlying characteristic of modernity. Secularization has meant that in a cultural transformation, major areas of human activity set themselves up as quasi-autonomous, with their own standards, authorities, and guiding principles.
Times Literary Supplement - David Throsby
[A] passionate book, to be welcomed in a discipline notably devoid of passion. [Adam's Fallacy] can be read for pleasure and enlightenment by economists and non-economists alike.
New York Times
So what is 'Adam's Fallacy?'...It is the idea that the economic sphere of life constitutes a separate realm 'in which the pursuit of self-interest is guided by objective laws to a socially beneficent outcome'...Professor Foley's book is simultaneously an introduction to economic theory and a critique of it. It is his version of the classic introduction for the economically challenged by Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers, now in its seventh edition. Adam's Fallacy concentrates more on the worldly philosophies rather than on the philosophers, on economic theory rather than on the characters and events that along with Mr. Heilbroner's masterly storytelling gave The Worldly Philosophers so much color and verve...By questioning economic theory's cordoning off of an economic spheres of life ruled by its own laws and expertise, Professor Foley is implicitly proposing limits to the secularization that is an underlying characteristic of modernity. Secularization has meant that in a cultural transformation, major areas of human activity set themselves up as quasi-autonomous, with their own standards, authorities, and guiding principles.
— Peter Steinfels
Times Literary Supplement
[A] passionate book, to be welcomed in a discipline notably devoid of passion. [Adam's Fallacy] can be read for pleasure and enlightenment by economists and non-economists alike.
— David Throsby
New York Review of Books
Foley gets deep into the analytical content of major schools of thought, ranking Adam's Fallacy up there with Heilbroner's classic.
— Robert Solow
Publishers Weekly
Consciously written as an alternative to Robert Heilbroner's classic The Worldly Philosophers, this book sets out to explore and critique the lives and ideas of the great economists. Both books begin with Adam Smith, though Foley discusses only eight of Heilbroner's 16 economists and gives less detail on each. Where Heilbroner celebrates the overlap between economics and other human activities, Foley criticizes "Adam's Fallacy," the artificial division between the economic sphere, in which pursuit of self-interest leads to social good, and the social sphere, in which good results from unselfish actions. Uncritical acceptance of the fallacy, which the author labels "economic theology," leads to the belief that short-term economic gain necessarily favors vague, long-term social gains. Unemployment and cultural destruction caused by free trade, for example, are ignored from a na ve faith that unrestrained trade leads to a greater good for a greater number. Foley finds some brilliance and rigor in the works of all his subjects, while also accusing them of sloppy thinking unsupported by data, which has led to heartless, misguided policies. However, his specific criticisms are mild and technical. Readers who want an abridged version of Heilbroner will like this better than readers who want to understand the fundamental errors of economics. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674027299
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,400,529
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Duncan K. Foley is Leo Model Professor at the New School for Social Research.
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Table of Contents

Preface

1. Adam''s Vision

The Division of Labor

The Theory of Value

Capital Accumulation

The Invisible Hand and the State

Smith's Theory of Money

Adam's Fallacy Revisited

2. Gloomy Science

Second Thoughts

Malthus and Population

The Context of Malthus's Essay

Malthus's Postulates

Malthusian Logic

Population and Food since Malthus's Time

Ricardo and the Limits to Growth

Ricardo's Labor Theory of Value

Accumulation and the Stationary State

Ricardo's Views on Machinery

The Political Economy of Poverty

3. The Severest Critic

Historical Materialism

The Commodity and the Theory of Value

Capitalist Exploitation

Accumulation and the Falling Rate of Profit

Primitive Accumulation

The Transition to Socialism

Marx and Proletarian Revolution

Marxist Theory and Social Change

4. On the Margins

Adam's Fallacy Needs New Shoes

Marginalism

Where Do Prices Come From?

Marginalism and Social Welfare

Marginalism and Time

Veblen and Conspicuous Consumption

5. Voices in the Air

John Maynard Keynes

World Capitalism in Keynes's Time

Say's Law and Laissez-Faire

Labor Markets and Unemployment

Expectations and Money

The Fate of Capitalism

Complexity vs. Collectivism

The Prophet of Technology

6. Grand Illusions

Looking in the Mirror

Two-Armed Economists

Escaping Adam's Fallacy

Face to Face with Adam's Curse

Reading Further

Appendix

Demographic Equilibrium

Theories of Money and Prices

Ricardo's Theory of Rent and Accumulation

Decomposition of the Value of Commodities

The Working Day

Index

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 14, 2009

    Adam's Fallacy is excellent

    Dr. Foley demonstrates that our peculiarly intense American fascination with and belief in the "free market" is essentially a matter of faith, a theological mistake based on a fundamentally fallacious understanding of how free market capitalism works. I was struck not just by the clarity and persuasiveness of the argument, but I got a great intro to a number of important "founding fathers" of economic theory. Highly recommended!

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    Posted February 27, 2011

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