Adam's Fallacy: A Guide to Economic Theology

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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 ...

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ADAM'S FALLACY

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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.

About the Author:
Duncan K. Foley is Leo Model Professor at the New School for Social Research

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Editorial Reviews

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.
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674023093
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2006
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (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

1 Adam's vision 1
2 Gloomy science 45
3 The severest critic 86
4 On the margins 155
5 Voices in the air 179
6 Grand illusions 213
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