I Don’t Recommend Nicholas Wapshott’s Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics

The first thing to say about this book is that much the most of it is a fantasy.

But there are bigger problems with the book that that.

Nicholas Wapshott grew up as a British journalist and his approach to truth and objectivity and getting the story right unfortunately reflects that worst of that dubious background.  The ethic Wapshott brings to material is the ethic Mark Twain brought to the Western story — reality never gets in the way of the demands of the tale he is determined to tell.

But it’s even worse than that.  The text is marred by all sorts of basic factual mistakes: John Bates Clark, we are told, was a German and a socialist; lecturers at the LSE who cut their teeth studying with British or German economists are described as “Hayek pupils”; Keynes is credited as the originator of econometrics; John Hicks is characterized as an unknown economist made famous by his work on Keynes; Thomas Wolfe’s “Me” Decade is transplanted from the 1970s to the 80s & 90s; GOP efforts to modestly slow the growth of Federal spending in the 1990s are described as “massive cuts” … these items are essentially picked at random — I could extend the list indefinitely.

And, irritatingly, a number of the footnotes and even short passages in the text read like a high school students cut and past borrowings straight out of Wikipedia.  (I won’t embarrass the author by providing examples here, but anyone with a copy of the text can check for themselves, simply compare the short bios of important figures in the footnotes against what is written in Wikipedia.)

More later.

For now I leave you with this from economist Herbert Gintis’ Amazon review of the book:

“Read this for fun, dear reader, the same way you read People magazine. Don’t think you will get some deep insights in the the nature of modern political economy. You won’t.”

And this from another Amazon reviewer:

“I picked up this book in the hope that it would clarify the issues between the so-called Keynesians and the conservatives who frequently cite Hayek. Unfortunately, beyond a few oft-repeated cliches, there is no explanation in any detail of the similarities and differences between the apparently competing views. Technical terms are scattered throughout with little or no attempt to include the layman. We are told about sexual preferences, styles of dress, and the reactions of various groups to presentations, but the economic and philosophical content of this book is very weak. Who was the intended audience?”


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3 Responses to I Don’t Recommend Nicholas Wapshott’s Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics

  1. Malthus0 says:

    I can’t say I am surprised. First he spams youtube & blog comment sections with adverts for his book, then I find out that he is no scholar at all but a media hack, known for popular biographies. I then saw a talk he gave promoting the book. The content was unimpressive.

    The first two things were enough to put me off reading his book, the third simply confirmed my opinion. I suspect he was just cashing in on the buzz blown up by the Econ stories videos.

  2. Younger Cato says:

    I was going to ask for your opinion when the book came out but decided to go ahead and buy it because you had posted a talk he’d given at Duke. I should have looked into it more. Now I have to sell it to someone else, knowing that I’d be propagating distortions, or burn it. Either way I’ve made a stupid mistake.

  3. Greg Ransom says:

    I’d had a bad gut instinct about the book, and was not excited to read the thing, but felt reading it was something of a duty. It turned out to be Fleet Street “print the legend” journalism thru the eyes of a Keynesian fan boy & British-centric chauvinist writing on a complex literature and on scientific matters way over his head.

    I didn’t get to it until I’d returned from vacation, and hadn’t brought the book expecting that it would spoil my vacation, which it would have.

    If you haven’t read the book, you should be able to re-sell it to Amazon at not too bad of a price.

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