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Economists have figured prominently in American politics since at least the New Deal, and columnist and business history professor Sobel (Hofstra) thinks that makes them ""worldly:"" (A reminder of Robert Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers can't hurt either.) In brief chapters he runs through the public careers of Leon Keyserling, Arthur Burns, Walter Holler, J. K. Galbraith, Paul Samuelson, and Milton Friedman--the last two of whom, because of their common distrust of government, have been influential despite refusing public office. Influence is the key to Sobel's choices, so he has excluded those who are no longer around. The chapters are uneven: Keyserling's career coincided with the New Deal, so the chapter on him gives a picture of New Deal liberalism, while Galbraith's career has been too long and diverse to be accommodated in this format. And while Keyserling was clearly one of several economists who helped formulate a new policy of public economics, others, like the data-gatherer Burns, have been content to muddle along. This is particularly true of the cluster of younger economists gathered in two concluding chapters on up-and-coming economic advisers--like Charles Schultze and Alfred Kahn--who keep waiting for the figures to come out right on inflation and recession. Despite his infatuation with his subjects, Sobel's capsules are of use to those who want to review the careers of economists, like Heller, who are now out of the public eye. But because he focuses exclusively on the public presence of these individuals, the historical and political frameworks for understanding them are missing.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1980
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan