A spirited argument for the superiority of the Keynesian theory of economics.
In contemporary political debate, the contest between free market advocacy and the promotion of statist regulation is usually conducted in the broadest, most binary terms. Debut author Bryson attempts to find a more nuanced but popularly accessible approach to modern economics, beginning with an assessment of the discipline’s methodological rigor. First, he contends that economics falls short as a scientific enterprise, as there are simply too many shifting variables at work, including psychological ones. In fact, he says, most economic theory resembles what he cheekily labels “mysticism.” As a tonic to such unempirical prejudices, Bryson recommends what he calls “informed common sense,” and the best bearer of such wisdom turns out to be the famous economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946). The author provides an impressively synoptic overview of Keynes’ economic innovations, including discussions of his theory of money, the causes and cures of unemployment, and the nature of savings and investment. Especially excellent is the author’s summary of Keynes’ views on central banking and the private financial sector, which is useful as a guide to today’s disputes about banking reform. There’s also a brief but informative section on the little-known economist Sir James Steuart, a precursor to Keynes by nearly 200 years who displayed almost shocking theoretical ingenuity and prescience. Bryson uses Keynesian ideas to dismantle classical economics; unfortunately, his account of free market philosophy isn’t as judicious as his descriptions of Keynes’ concepts. It reduces much of economist Adam Smith’s views to the untethering of human greed, overlooking the distinction that Smith made between avarice and rational self-interest. Also, the author often undermines his arguments with rhetorical stridency, too promiscuously discussing the “madness” and “idiocy” of those with whom he disagrees. Also, there are detours—such as a discussion of Ayn Rand—that seem gratuitous and ax-grinding. As a single-volume introduction to Keynes, or as a counterbalance to contentious sloganeering about the role of the government in economic stimulus, this is an erudite gem. However, readers will likely be frustrated by its displays of philosophical intemperance.
A worthy introduction to Keynes’ ideas, but a slight account of free market thought.