Review of Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics:
A Common Sense Guide to the Economy
Basic Books (2007)
If people ask me to recommend popular expositions of basic evolutionary biology or quantum physics, I have no trouble. In these and many other areas of natural and behavioral science brilliant expositions of basic theory abound. Economics is a different story. It is invariably the case that a popular economics book has a "point of view" that presents a biased and fundamentally unbalanced description of the state of knowledge in economic theory and policy. I do not know why this should be the case, but it is. Invariably.
One might argue that there are no agreed-upon "principles of economics" on which there is general consent among professional economists. This surely used to be the case when neoclassical economics, Marxian economics, Keynesian economics, and Institutional economics all held court. But, over the past two decades, a startling degree of unanimity on basic principles has developed---to the point where one can no longer say that there are alternative "schools of thought," except for a very small minority of beleaguered "heterodox" followers of some venerable guru, such as Marx, Veblen, von Mises, or Keynes.
This does not mean, of course, that economists agree on economic and social policy. For one thing, there are many things we simply do not understand very well. Take "corruption," for example. I believe corruption is a major impediment to growth in poor countries, but others believe corruption is a symptom rather than a cause, and I have neither the data nor the analytical model that can convince them otherwise. For another thing, economists differ in fundamentally normative ways. For instance, some believe that poverty is an abomination that should be addressed with all our economic resources. Others have a taste for reversing global warming, and others believe government should get out of the business of "solving social...