A Not-So-Dismal Science: A Broader View of Economies and Societies by Mancur Olson

30 Aug

A Not-So-Dismal Science: A Broader View of Economies and SocietiesA Not-So-Dismal Science: A Broader View of Economies and Societies by Mancur Olson

My Rating★★★☆☆

The Octopus

Like Physics, when a science realizes it could underpin all other sciences, it becomes an Octopus. The primary focus of this collection presented by Olson is to be an apologetic for this ‘economic imperialism’: of Economics branching out like an Octopus into almost every sphere of human endeavor. One has to admit that as Economics assumes more and more the role of examining how human beings interact with each other for the attainment of any benefit (in so far as the theory works that any benefit is ultimately economic in a sense, in the broadest meaning of the term), this is almost inevitable. Economics is dominating most policy debates around the world now. Everything has an economic tinge, the green-colored glasses of Oz is now all-pervading. History is written with economic understanding, even science is done from an economic perspective and education is more and more directed by economics.

Most of the essays are meant to illustrate this widening ambit of economics and its integration with the social sciences and beyond. This subset of the essays are not particularly informative as they are exploratory and not argumentative in nature and only attempts to show the growing linkages, not the outcomes of those linkages.

But in the process, Olson being Olson, enough of the essays also try to take on the question of the ‘origin of the world’. And to my chagrin, I have been convinced that I bought the arguments presented by Clark too easily. Olson and co dismantle any productivity based theory by asking a simple question: If the issue was with the people, how is it that they can increase as much as fourfold in productivity on the mere crossing of a border (mexican immigrants to the US etc). Olson has a few counter theories of his own that champion Institutionalism as the answer for most of the economic debates and they seem convincing for now. But the fun thing is that there are as many opinions as there are economists and of course the answers are never to be found in any one camp.

Economics probably has as much to contribute to the various sciences as Olson claims and as he quips glibly, even if economic advice increased the GDP by just 1 percent, that would pay our salaries several times over.

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Posted by on August 30, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books


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