schools of economic thought
September 22, 2012 10:37 PM   Subscribe

Need to get up to speed on Keynesian, monetarist, Austrian, and other influential schools of economic theory

I've taken economics 101 and read Smith and Marx in college. But beyond that, my knowledge of economic thought is sorely lacking.

Tried to read Keynes' General Theory, but am going through it a little too slowly. Have also looked at reading lists for postgraduate courses in economic history, but I don't think I have a solid enough background to be able to grasp journal articles.

Could you recommend a minimal set of books that covers:
1. the core principles of the various influential schools,
2. what reasoning/evidence they base their arguments on,
3. how they are related to each other, and
4. which of their important contributions/concepts/terms have entered the canon. e.g. liquidity trap?

Basically, I am hoping to learn enough to be able to evaluate and compare how the different theorists would interpret current economic developments.

Charts and diagrams are fine. Text that doesn't try to be breezy or witty is good too.

I've seen recs for Heilbroner's Worldly Philosophers and Buchholz's New Ideas, but both seem to have a bit of a biographical slant according to reviews, the former more so than the latter. For efficiency I'm interested in biographical anecdotes only insofar as it relates to point (2) above.

Is it possible to find anything close to what I'm looking for, or do I have to stick to Wikipedia and Investopedia?

Thanks a lot for your help!
posted by swimmingly to Society & Culture (3 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I've taken economics 101 and read Smith and Marx in college. But beyond that, my knowledge of economic thought is sorely lacking.

This is like claiming you've read Freud on Psychology, or Euclid on mathematics. Foundational, but sorely outdated. Many of the economic thinkers your question asks were thick on theory and thin on evidence. Partially because we're not about to set up double blind macroeconomic experiments, and partially because a lot of economic writing over the ages was more about politics of benefactors. And arguably, politics is still a problem.

Fortunately, a huge leap in sophistication took place in the late 60s early 70s. Paul Samuelson's doctoral thesis / book Foundations of Economic Analysis adopted mathematical models and statistical methods from the more mathematically developed realm of physics. But you're asking for surveys of history, and I'm told his textbook is widely assigned and covers some economic thought.

On the other hand, I watched this lecture series to get a survey a while back. It was kind of interesting learning about the early history of european banking, and the rest of the course pretty much dedicates a lecture to talking about various philosopher's viewpoints. Not saying its the best, just that I watched it all. And of course, there's still going to be bias here; if not in critiquing certain viewpoints more than others, then simply in which viewpoints are covered at all. The lecture on the Catholic economic theory felt motivated by the lecturer's affiliations more than say, citations.
posted by pwnguin at 1:37 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

For a more pop/simplified introduction to Keynesian and "Austrian" (Hayekian) economics, NPR's Planet Money podcast has produced a couple of episodes that compare the two. (Warning: truly terrible rap interlude.) They also recommend a book called Keynes Hayek that I haven't read but might be up your alley.
posted by psoas at 7:58 AM on September 23, 2012

The wikipedia articles on ecoomics are very good. If you can read and understand all of them, you'll have a pretty darn good overview. Read some Bastiat to understand what the "classical liberal" types base their outlooks on. It is dated, but when you read it in the context of post revolutionary France, it starts to get fascinating.
posted by gjc at 8:54 AM on September 23, 2012

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