The underlying theme is that self-interest and social morals are rarely aligned. The impersonal mode of exchange and production takes away any moral ambiguity. For society to benefit, each individual should be in the pursuit of self-interest, is the fallacy that Foley explains the contradictions of using a variety of other economists.
This book is extreme well written and does a grand job at looking at each economist in different outlooks on productivity, money, population, living standards, and consumption. The history of economic thought is clearly witnessed. Smith, Malthus, Ricardo, Marx, Keynes, Hayek, Jevons, Schumpeter and a few other major economists are presented with their respective research. Going through the Classical, Neoclassical, Austrian, and Keynesian perspectives of the economy. Each time, questioning the capitalist system with society at large.
The explanations of the various economic theories are very descriptive in their particular nature which means that they provide more just the basic economic arguments. Each section contains parts on how a particular class exploits other’s, having Marx take central stage. The book is weighted toward Marx’s theories and how Marx criticized the capitalist system. How very social the modes of production are and the uses of commodities, are very similar to Adam Smith’s view on the class system of production as well. An explanation of why Marx’s theories are taken in an extreme form is provided and how Marx tried to propose a more practical solution to the privatization of means of production.
The problem of the book is the contradictory theme. The self-interest view expressed arises from a critique of the Neoclassical view of self-interest and not that of Adam Smith. The author did mention Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, but failed to mention that in Smith's view, self-interest is inclusive with helping society. The actions we seek to undertake are all in a social reality and actions we take are provided with social feedback. The social feedback mechanism makes Adam Smith’s self-interest supports society as society determined what self-interest is.
Another problem is that, although each economist views are given their due, the critiques of the views are uneven. After explaining Malthus theory of population and its, partial rather than complete, invalidity he goes on to claim that Ricardo’s theory of rent is based on Malthus theory. Foley seems to support Ricardo's theory creating a contradiction in the discussion, for criticizing the Malthus theory inevitably means Ricardo's theory is at least partly incorrect. There were a few sentences given to changes in the practical application of Ricardo's theory of rent, but taken from a different perspective should have been a huge critique of the theory. The arguments of Adam’s Smith are heavily criticized, but when Marx makes similar argument in different form, no criticism appears.
Pages to read: 254
1st Edition: 2006
Ratings out of 5: