Economic thinkers

Date posted: November 3, 2011

N.C. State University economist Mike Walden is reading a new book by Sylvia Nasser, author of “A Beautiful Mind.” Her latest effort looks at the great 19th and 20th century economic thinkers — those people largely responsible for how we view the economy today. Walden explains the book’s relevance to today’s economic problems.

“Well, this is a great book from my perspective. I doubt if it’s going to get wide readership, but … I think there’s some key lessons here that … are coming out as I read it.

“First, Nasser makes the point that the economic issues that these great thinkers looked at 100 to 200 years ago are basically the same issues as we look at today. But they’re on a different scale with issues like poverty, standard of living, worker’s earnings, recessions, international trade. These were all issues that we hear today but were also confronted 100 to 200 years ago.

“Secondly, rather than these great thinkers being what I’ll call ivory-tower thinkers, who just sat in an office somewhere and dreamed up these economic theories, their … economic ideas and concepts were actually generated by these guys and gals going to real-world situations and studying how factories work and how workers earn money, and then developing their ideas from that. So rather than sort of a top-down approach where the theory is applied without looking at the particulars, it was really the real-world experiences that developed the theory.

“And then last point is that, again, similar to today there were deep, deep disagreements among economists about how the economic world really works and, in particular, what role government should have in that economy — obviously disagreements that we still see today.”

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