The Dismal Science
How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community

Marglin, Steven
Publisher:  Harvard
Year Published:  2008
Pages:  376pp   ISBN:  978-0-674-02654-4
Library of Congress Number:  HB724.M37 2007   Dewey:  306.3
Resource Type:  Book
Cx Number:  CX8191

Marglin argues that the practice of mainstream economic theory results in the loss of community. In a word, the theoretical framework of utility-maximizing self-interest precludes the development of personal relationships with others. To this end, the book primarily focuses on a foundational critique of the core theoretical assumptions of economics. Marglin takes aim at four fundamental assumptions. First, individuals act autonomously based on rational self-interest and fixed preferences. Second, the only valid basis for knowledge is in logical deduction from initial self-evident principles. Third, the nation state is the only legitimate societal group. Finally, it is possible for unlimited human wants to be satisfied in the economy.
In each case, Marglin illustrates that these assumptions are not universal truths based on human nature, and instead are the implicit assumptions of Western modernity, a particular product of a particular history and culture. He admits that these assumptions do provide an important perspective. It is necessary, however, to understand they are just one of many perspectives we require if we wish to understand a world where man does not fit neatly into the modernity's ideal type. The book includes 2 appendices, additional notes, references, and an index. Of significance is Appendix A, where Marglin outlines the structural critique of economics to demonstrate that while there is dissent within mainstream economic theory, it is insufficient as its critique of the free market aims not to replace, but improve it.

In the end, "the Dismal Science" is relatively accessible to those without a background of economics. The book avoids technical economic jargon and statistics, in favor of often drawing upon history, politics, and philosophy to illustrate its points.

[Abstract by Jared Ong]

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