The Worldly Philosophers; The Lives, Times & Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers
In this REVISED EDITION by Robert L. Heilbroner the author explores the views of men who were able to shape and sway mens minds and thus able to shape and sway the world through the extraordinary power of ideas.
He explains the market system and argues that the lure of gain steers each modern man in his task which is contrasted with the pull of tradition or the whip of authority. The economists role was to develop theories that explained by serving ones self interest the interests of society would be served.
We are often told that peoples interest in self interest is as old as man himself but this is not the case...in fact it is a relatively new phenomenon and even today the notion of gain is foriegn to a large part of the worlds population. The idea that each man should strive to constantly improve his material lot is largely absent in the majority of eastern civilizations and in fact the church taught in the middle ages "No Christian ought to be a merchant" and in Shakespeare time the object of life was not to improive but to maintain ones standard of living.
In fact the early capitalists were not the pillars of society but the outcasts abd the deracines as the paramount idea was that life was merely a preamble for Heaven or Hell or life eternal as some like to put it. From the 10th to the 16th century economic life ands social life were one and the same and the idea of making alving had not come into humanities thick skulls.
Of course there has been markets for as long as history but a market system is not just a means of exchanging goods but is a mechanism for sustaining and maintaining an entire system...this notion of gain providing the neccesary attributes to hold a community togethor would be seen as madness.
In the 14th and 15th century there was no salable rent producing properties no selling of services to the highest bidder. In fact in precapitalism instead of risk and change the motto was safety first.
This book is well written and pro capitalism. The economist covered include Adam Smith, Parson Malthus, Karl Marx, Thorstein Veblen and John Maynard Keynes.
It puts the market system in historical perspective and perhaps lays the foundations for a critique into late stage captialism and it's inevitable collapse...after all can an ever expanding war machine justify itself in the face of nothingness? It inadvertently brings to light the question if not a market system then what?
no one i know would return to tradition or authority as guiding lights...
yet now only the wealthy are free...