The man of the system

I’ve started reading Hubris: Why economists failed to predict the crisis and how to avoid the next one, by Meghnad Desai. It has this great quotation I’d forgotten (some time since I read it) from Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments:

“The man of the system …. seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it.”

Echoes, too, of the fabulous Seeing Like A State by James Scott.

  The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Penguin Classics)  Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (The Institution for Social and Policy St)

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3 thoughts on “The man of the system

  1. Pingback: The man of the system | Homines Economici

  2. Just found your blog its wonderful. I’m just just starting to learn about economics as a 55 year old retired businessman. Always had an interest buy the overarching big picture was fuzzy. I,am begining a OU degree in Economics/mathematical Sciences in October.

    Would you be so kind to recommend me 1 book to get a concise overview of the different schools of thought within Economics. I am interested to see where on this scale I currently sit with my life experiences that no doubt will colour my views. I want to be exposed to different ideas and enjoy pondering them without having an already chosen party line. So a big picture bool that will give me a framework to hang my evolving ideas on.

    Many thanks and now to exploring more of your site…….George

    • Hello George! and thanks so much for your kind comment about the blog. If you specifically want ‘schools of thought’, Ha Joon Chang’s new book ‘Economics’ covers this. For a general overview of current thinking – mainstream but with different perspectives noted – Tim Harford’s two books, The Undercover Economist and the Undercover Economist Strikes Back are terrific general intros. Meghnad Desai’s new book, Hubris, which I just reviewed here, is a bit more demanding than any of these (although still very clear) and also covers different approaches – it is mainly macroeconomics. You might also try some history of economic thought eg the books by Backhouse of Saandmo. But that’s enough – you probably have a long reading list for your course too!

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