The passion of the teacher is often the inspiration for a student. Living Economics illuminates how economics affects all walks of life, whether in the marketplace, voting booth, church, family, or any human activity. Boettke believes that economics is not merely a game to be played by clever professionals, but a discipline that touches on the most pressing practical issues at any historical juncture. The wealth and poverty of nations are at stake; the length and quality of life turns on the economic conditions individuals find themselves living with.
So teaching and learning economics are high stakes ventures. Along the way he introduces us to major thinkers: from the Late Scholastics in 16th- and 17th-century Spain to Smith, Say, and Bastiat of the Classical School, to Austrian School scholars (Menger, Mises, Hayek, Kirzner, and Rothbard) on to New Institutional economists (Alchian, Coase, Demsetz, North, Ostrom and Williamson) and Public Choice theorists (Buchanan, Tullock, and others). This engaging and reasoned book is a must-read for economists, students, and everyone else who wishes to better understand economics.
1. Economics for Yesterday, Today, and
PART I: ON TEACHING ECONOMICS
2. On the Tasks of Economics Education
3. On Teaching Graduate Students in
4. Teaching Economics, Appreciating
Spontaneous Order, and Economics as a
PART II: ON TEACHERS OF ECONOMICS
5. Relevance as a Virtue: Hans Sennholz
6. The Forgotten Contribution: Murray
Rothbard on Socialism in Theory and
7. Mr. Boulding and the Austrians
8. Putting the "Political" Back into Political
Economy: Warren Samuels
9. Maximizing Behavior and Market Forces:
10. Methodological Individualism,
Spontaneous Order, and the Research
Program of the Workshop in Political
Theory and Policy Analysis: Vincent and
11. Is the Only Form of "Reasonable
12. The Matter of Methodology: Don Lavoie
13. Invitation to Political Economy: Peter
Berger and the Comedic Drama of
Political, Economic, and Social Life
14. Was Mises Right?
15. The Genius of Mises and the Brilliance of
16. Hayek and Market Socialism: Science,
Ideology, and Public Policy
17. James M. Buchanan and the Rebirth of
PART III: ON THE PRACTICE OF ECONOMICS
18. Where Did Economics Go Wrong?
Modern Economics as a Flight from
19. Man as Machine
20. The Limits of Economic
21. High Priests and Lowly Philosophers
part 1v: conclusion
22. A Few Critical Paragraphs That Should
Shape What We Teach, Economics: Smith,
Mises and Hayek
About the Author
Economics is a vital source of ideas for understanding how the world works. Although the greatest teachers of economics have always stressed this, economics as it is currently taught often deemphasizes the study of real-world problems and dwells too much on nonessentials. Economics teachers would find greater success (i.e., their students would retain more knowledge) if they focused more on the core lessons of economics, such as how the price system coordinates and harmonizes the decision-making of countless individuals, and why the resulting patterns of spontaneous order are self-regulating but can fall prey to public policies that create undesirable, unintended consequences.
Although Adam Smith didnt originate economics, his synthesizing treatise The Wealth of Nations is a towering achievement in the intellectual history of Western Civilization. If one mark of a giant of economics is that his works continue to serve as sources of insight and debate for later generations, then Smith is surely among the tallest giants in the field. Along with instilling basic economic principles and their practical applications, economics teachers should strive to cultivate an appreciation for great political economists, from Smith and David Hume to F. A. Hayek and James Buchanan.
The tradition of engaging the public on issues of practical importance while adhering to basic economic truths is a legacy that was carried forth by leaders of the Austrian school of economics. Carl Menger, Eugene Bohm-Bawerk, Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, and their intellectual progenyall relied on basic economic principles to develop their profound insights on Big Picture issues, such as the workings of a free-market price system, capitalism versus socialism, competition and entrepreneurship, and inflation and unemployment. Their theoretical works were almost always geared toward shedding light on real-world problems: they didnt view abstract theorizing as an end in itself.
Although economics has become increasingly theoretical (one is tempted to say merely theoretical), alternative approaches that apply economic principles to pressing public issues have also gathered steam. James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, Vincent and Elinor Ostrom, Ronald Coase, and the late Warren Samuels, for example, have used economic reasoning and analysis to vastly enrich our understanding of political decision-making, civil society, property rights, and the legal system. By putting the political back into political economy (the common name for the discipline in its early days, when it focused more on public issues), these thinkers demonstrate an affinity for that older tradition.
If economics is to fulfill its potential as a vital tool for understanding and improving the world, the economic mainstream must turn its attention to the puzzles and problems that captivate the public. And then it must communicate its findings effectively to policymakers, opinion leaders, and society at large. If the economics profession continues to indulge its obsession with building abstract models that are based on unrealistic assumptions and devoid of empirical content, the public will regard it as irrelevant and will seek counsel from those who are not skilled inand who may be hostile tothe economic way of thinking.
Economics suffers from a bad reputation as a dismal science plagued with lifeless graphs and dry statistics. In reality, this accusation has less to do with substance than with style; the subject itself is lively and vital. Economics provides a powerful framework for understanding what goes on in the marketplace, the voting booth, the family, the community, and every other sphere of social activity; indeed, the application (or misapplication) of its principles shapes the fate of nations. The greatest teachers of economicsfrom before Adam Smith on down to the presenthave always impressed upon the public their disciplines explanatory powers and importance for human well-being.
In Living Economics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Peter J. Boettke contributes to this tradition by discussing the ideas of some of the most important economists of the past centuryfamous and not so famous worldly philosophers whose innovative theories shed light on pressing issues such as inflation and unemployment, capitalism and socialism, competition and entrepreneurship, law and politics, and customs and civil society. He also explains how the conduct of economists, both in classrooms and in scholarly journals written for their peers, enhances or diminishes the influence of economic thinking on the world of practical affairs.
Boettkes thorough diagnosis of the maladies of todays economics profession is especially valuable. He concludes by urging his colleagues to return to their disciplines original mission: to make sense of human action and communicate the findings to a public sorely in need of cogent counsel. Scholarly and yet highly accessible, Living Economics enables readers to see far across the human landscape by standing on the shoulders of giants in the economics profession, as Boettke and his occasional chapter co-authorsChristopher Coyne, Steve Horwitz, Peter Leeson, David L. Prychitko, and Frederic Sauteteagerly acknowledge. Its sparkling insights make it worthwhile reading for economics teachers, students, and anyone interested in exploring the frontiers of the economic way of thinking and their potential impact on the world.
Part I examines the aim and methods of economic education. F. A. Hayek said that the task of economics was to teach people how little they knew about what they imagined they could design. He and other great economists, from Adam Smith to James Buchanan, have emphasized the unplanned or spontaneous aspects of the private-property market economy, especially self-regulation via the adjustment of relative prices and the profit and loss calculus. This may seem like simple economics, but it is not simple-minded economics.
Making this the theme of principles courses would be immensely helpful for teaching students core concepts such as thinking on the margin; opportunity cost; the gains from specialization, trade, and innovation; and the requirements of wealth creation. It would be vastly superior to teaching a watered-down version of Ph.D. classes or emphasizing market failure as if that were the essential characteristic of a market economy. Even at higher levels of economic study, spontaneous order is an invaluable unifying conceptone that suggests rewarding approaches to numerous research topics for the graduate student pursuing an academic career. This is one of many suggestions that Boettke has for grad students.
Teachers of Economics
Part II, the heart of the book, examines the teachings of more than a dozen economists who exemplify excellence. Boettke begins with Hans Sennholz, his undergraduate professor at Grove City College, whose public engagement on topical issues such as inflation, unemployment, and monetary reform was animated by a passionate advocacy of a free society. To those students who were open, Sennholzs message was transformative, Boettke writes.
Like Sennholz, Murray Rothbard, another early influence on Boettke, embraced the Austrian school of economics and wrote volumes on a wide variety of theoretical, historical, and policy concerns. His unjustly overlooked writings on the Soviet economy help answer a puzzling question: If central planning is very inefficient, why didnt the Soviet economy collapse sooner? Boettke explains how he utilized Rothbards insights in his own works about the Soviet economy.
Kenneth Boulding is seldom mentioned in conjunction with Austrian economicsone reason is that he was a veritable school unto himselfbut he shared the radical subjectivism of the Austrians, as is evident throughout the nearly 40 books and hundreds of articles he wrote on topics as diverse as capital theory, war and peace, and social evolution. Boettke encourages young scholars to excavate the goldmine that is Bouldings theoretical corpus.
Next Boettke examines the works of economists who enlarged the domain of the profession by applying economic thinking
to the political realm. The late Warren Samuels emphasized the importance of political and legal institutions in shaping economic activity. His correspondence with James M. Buchanan about a legal case involving apple growers illustrates fascinating differences in their respective approaches.
Gordon Tullock, Buchanans early co-author and co-developer of public choice theory, has used economic thinking to illuminate political phenomena such as logrolling, voter motives, and rent seeking. To do this effectively he had to overcome interesting theoretical challenges, such as the need to identify filtering signals and equilibrating processes that differ from those common to commercial transactions, Boettke explains.
Public choice analysis usually emphasizes the institutional sources of conflict in collective decision-making. In contrast, the work of Vincent and Elinor Ostrom emphasizes the roots of cooperation in the non-market arena. By shedding light on the underpinnings of civil society, they aim to cultivate citizens that have the capacity for self-governance, Boettke explains.
During his short but productive life, Don Lavoie applied his creative mind to a diverse range of topics, including central planning, the history of economic thought, and computer science. Some Austrian economists deemed his work on the philosophy of the social sciences heretical, but Boettke suggests that it fits squarely within their tradition.
Although a sociologist rather than an economist, Peter Berger has a lot to offer the dismal science. Thomas Mayer confirms this in an economics book apparently patterned after Bergers bestseller, An Invitation to Sociology. Both works captivate the reader by explaining mysteries of everyday life that most people are content to leave unanswered, Boettke explains.
Ludwig von Mises, the unofficial dean of the Austrian school in the twentieth century, was as controversial for his stance on economic methodology as he was for his advocacy of laissez-faire. Among other heresies, he held that basic theorizing must precede empirical analysis because facts dont speak for themselves; the relevant facts must be selected and interpreted, and those steps rely on valid principles. Misess thoroughgoing defense of methodological apriorism confronts the claims of positivism but avoids the epistemological abyss of postmodernism, Boettke contends.
Mises also argued that the market isnt so much a place as it is a process, one that entails risk-taking, economizing, and constant change. His pupil Israel Kirzner has developed this idea further, arguing that the changeless general equilibrium models of neoclassical theory ignore, rather than explain, the most vital aspects of real-world markets, such as rivalrous competition and entrepreneurial discovery.
F. A. Hayek, the most famous economist to follow in Misess footsteps, is celebrated widely for his work on knowledge and social coordination, but he also wrote extensively about the political economy of freedom. These topics are not unrelated: Hayeks critique of socialism reflects his view of how markets use knowledge and create benefits far greater than anyone had intended.
James M. Buchanan shares many of Hayeks views but has taken political economy in a new direction. It can be framed as follows: Economics is about a game played within rules, but how are those rules determined? Buchanans answer dispels romantic notions about politics, but its realism has fostered a fruitful sub-discipline within public choice: constitutional political economy.
The Practice of Economics
Although the economics profession continues to shed light on the way the world works, the mainstream began to drift off course starting in the early twentieth century, Boettke argues in Part III.
Where did economics go wrong? Modern economics took flight from reality as mathematical formalism gained ascendency, especially after the publication of Paul Samuelsons Foundations of Economics (1947). Abetting this trend were the tacit assumption of man as machine and a corollary: the belief that economic prosperity was an engineering problem best dealt with by strong doses of Keynesian demand management and cost-benefit analysis, each treatment to be administered by the high priests of the Keynesian-neoclassical orthodoxy. Ironically, economics and political economy were well equipped to guard against such hubris, as Adam Smith and F. A. Hayek explained.
Fortunately, a counter-trend against what Hayek called constructive rationalism and what Smith called the man of systems is underway. An emphasis on real-world economic problems is making a comeback, and the limitations of policy activism are better understood. The timing is propitious. The fate of humanity, Boettke writes, will turn on the ability of those within the mainline of economics to beat back economic ignorance, special interest politics, and the hubristic ambitions of the man of systems.
Living Economics is a superb book. Peter Boettkes passion for excellence in teaching and for his subject, mainline economics (the sort of basic economic reasoning that draws on the ideas of a line of thinkers from Adam Smith through the Austrians to people like Jim Buchanan and Elinor Ostrom) shines through on every page. It is vintage Boettke: engaging, witty, and chock full of insight. This book should be put in the hands of every first-year student of economics, if only to show them what they are missing!
Bruce Caldwell, Research Professor of Economics and Director, Center for the History of Political Economy, Duke University
Economics as it should be, Living Economics is a solid book that counters the excessive simulation of modern academic economics while, at the same time, avoiding the temptation to extend application of the logic beyond reasonable limits. Boettke concentrates on the primary purpose of economics, which is to convey an understanding of how, within properly designed institutional constraints, operative markets generate and distribute value without overt conflict.
James M. Buchanan, Jr.,Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences; Advisory General Director of the Center for Study of Public Choice and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Economics, George Mason University
Living Economics is in many ways a remarkable book. The volume luminously reflects the amazing breadth of Professor Boettkes reading, and the deep and careful thoughtfulness with which he reads. But the true distinction of this volume consists in more than the profound economic understanding, and wealth of deeply perceptive doctrinal-history observations that fill its pages. Its distinction consists in the delightful circumstances that these riches arise from and express Peter Boettkes extraordinary intellectual generosity and unmatched intellectual enthusiasmrare qualities which have enabled him to discover nuggets of valuable theoretical insight in the work of a wide array of economists, many of whom are generally thought to be far away from the Austrian tradition which Boettke himself splendidly represents. Boettkes prolific pen is dipped, not in the all-too-common ink of professional one-up-manship, but in the inkwell of an earnest, utterly benevolentand brilliantscholar, seeking, with all his intellectual integrity, to learn and to understand.
Israel M. Kirzner, Professor Emeritus of Economics, New York University
Boettkes passion for economics and the clarity of his vision makes Living Economics a pleasure to read. No reader will fail to benefit from his broad and deep insights.
Steven E. Landsburg, Professor of Economics, University of Rochester; author, The Armchair Economist
Living Economics is inspired by Boettkes students and great teachers, such as Boulding and Kirzner, and the central theme that economics has strayed dangerously from a mainline emphasis on process and rules, as opposed to outcomes. The mainline sinew is rooted in Adam Smiths The Theory of Moral Sentiments extending to Hayek, Ostrom and other moderns whom Boettke examines with deep understanding of their relevance for our time.
Vernon L. Smith, Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences; George L. Argyros Endowed Chair in Finance and Economics, Chapman University School of Law
Boettke distinguishes between mainline and mainstream approaches to economics. By mainline, Boettke identifies an enduring theoretical enterprise that goes back to Thomas Aquinas and the Spaniards associated with the University of Salamanca, is continued with Frances Hutcheson, David Hume, and Adam Smith within the framework of the Scottish Enlightenment, and is represented in modern times by the teachers to whom Boettke devotes half of Living Economics. By mainstream, Boettke means currently popular lines of thought that are also in significant respects contrary to the mainline. . . . In Living Economics, Peter Boettke presents cogently and poignantly why it is the mainline tradition of economic scholarship, with the immunization against progressivist and utopian nostrums that only it can offer, that offers the best protection possible against the self-subordination to Power draped in utopian ideology that Tocqueville recognized in Democracy in America as the typical form of democratic despotism.
Peter Boettke has spent a career not just as a scholar of economics, but as an educator of both the general public and generations of students. In Living Economics, he reflects on the importance of teaching and of his own teachers in spreading the ideas of the mainline of economic thinking from Smith, Say and Wicksteed to Mises, Hayek, Buchanan, Coase, and Friedman, including his own contemporaries. This book is essential reading, especially in a time when the tradition of sound economics Boettke focuses on is under increasing threat by old fallacies and new politicians. The passion for ideas and economic theory that permeates these pages is exactly the inspiration one gets from a great teacher. Peter Boettke is indeed that.
Steven G. Horwitz, Charles A. DanaProfessor of Economics,St. Lawrence University
I am very pleased with Peter Boettkes book Living Economics which has fully captured the essence of my work and that of others on what good economics is all about and why understanding it is so important.
Gordon Tullock,University Professor Emeritus of Law and Economics, George Mason University
Peter Boettkes book Living Economics not only is splendidly characterized by broad erudition, solid analysis, shrewd observation, and expositional clarity, it appears at a propitious moment. We are in a presidential election year, with most political spokespersons relying on embarrassingly superficial and bastardized economic diagnosis and rabble-rousing prescription. And the bulk of professional economists persist in putting precious and arid formalism over substantive content. It is high timebut Professor Boettke thinks that it is not too lateto join the impressive and long-persisting caravan of scholars promoting feel for, sense of, and interest in the contribution which genuine economics can contribute to a free and increasingly prosperous society.
William R. Allen, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of California, Los Angeles
With Living Economics, Peter Boettke cements his reputation not only as one of the leading Austrian economists of our time, but as one of the most compelling and engaging communicators of economic ideas. Teachers will derive inspiration from his essays and policy officials will likely gain a little humility regarding their ability to improve upon undesigned economic processes. All readers of this book will be hard pressed not to come away sharing Boettkes enthusiasm for economics as a deadly serious discipline that tackles vital questions of wealth and poverty, of life and death, as well as an amazing framework for thinking about human behavior in the real world, including all human endeavors, . . . that is entertaining and downright fun.
Susan E. Dudley, Research Professor of Public Policy and Director, Regulatory Studies Center, George Washington University; former Director, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, U.S. Office of Management and Budget
Living Economics by Peter Boettke is aptly titled. Its all about what he received from his teachers (broadly defined) and what he, in turn, has imparted to his students. Boettkes deep scholarship, serious reflections and passion for economics come through on every page. Accordingly, unlike most economics prose, Living Economics can be safely read before driving. Indeed, Living Economics is full of surpriseslike an entire chapter on my former professor, Kenneth Boulding. Boettkes treatment of that great economist hits the nail on the head. The book is well suited for anyone with an interest in economics and finance and should be a required supplemental text for principles of economics courses, as well as courses on the history of economic thought.
Steve H. Hanke, Professor of Applied Economics, Johns Hopkins University
Peter Boettkes book Living Economics is a spirited, passionate, and exciting tour of free-market economics. I enjoyed every page!
Andrei Shleifer, Professor of Economics, Harvard University; Faculty Research Fellow, National Bureau of Economic Research
Peter Boettkes insightful and wide-ranging book Living Economics is not simply about teaching economics: it is a joyous exercise in teaching us through the great teachers of economics. This volume shows us how the mainline of economic teaching from Smith through Hayek to contemporary thinkers such as Buchanan and Ostrom have analyzed the core features of economic cooperation while recognizing the cognitive limits of economic and political actors, and indeed of economic analysis itself. All students of the moral sciences need to learn Boettkes master lesson: We have to understand man as a fallible yet capable chooser, who lives within an institutional framework that is historically contingent.
Gerald F. Gaus,James E. Rogers Professor of Philosophy, University of Arizona
Through his scholarly and entrepreneurial work, Peter Boettke has transformed a sometimes hostile, sometimes neutral, field of economics into a thoroughgoing revival of Austrian ideas in the worlds of thought and action that is in full flower today. Living Economics reveals how Boettke has been the energetic catalyst so pivotal to this transformation. This book provides wonderful insight into how this future has been brought about.
Richard E. Wagner,Hobart R. Harris Professor of Economics, George Mason University
Loaded with content well worth reading and carefully arrayed gems from history of thought, Peter Boettkes Living Economicsis literally his personal statement about living with and living through economics. But be careful as you read. Boettkes love affair with economics is contagious. You will find yourself cheering for more.
Bruce Yandle, Professor of Economics Emeritus, Clemson University
There exist noteworthy works that survey economic thought and others that provide insights into current economic challenges. This highly unusual book does both at once and very successfully. Interpreting and contrasting major contributions to economics in clear prose, it also identifies the policy implications of key economic insights. Insightful, instructive, and also entertaining throughout, Peter Boettkes Living Economics can be read profitably by academics, policy makers, students, and a wide range of other constituencies concerned about our economic institutions.
Timur Kuran, Professor of Economics and Political Science and the Gorter Professor of Islamic Studies, Duke University
The truly wonderful book Living Economics shows students and scholars alike why Peter Boettke is one of the most original scholars and teachers of his generation. Boettkes goal is to form minds young and old in the way that his was formed, and thus the lessons of this book come from across the intellectual spectrum. Boettkes masterful ability to deftly meld a variety of approaches to economics into a lens through which to view the world shows the possibilities of economics analysis at a time when its status is much in question and breathes new life into the dismal science.
Steven G. Medema, Professor of Economics, University of Colorado, Denver
Living Economics is a treasure trove of ideas for anyone interested in communicating economics to students and the broader public. The authors enthusiasm is evident throughout. Professor Peter Boettke shows us what he learned from some of the great figures in economics and what, from their work, he has been able to distill and elaborate as his own teaching message. At the end of the day, this book is more than about teaching economics, it is about Boettkes love affair with the subject.
Mario J. Rizzo, Professor of Economics, New York University
We have here a fascinating reflection that stems from more than a quarter century of Peter Boettkes scholarship and masterful teaching. One cannot close this book without a renewed appreciation of the core insights of economics that run from Adam Smith to F.A. Hayek to James Buchanan and others. On page after page Living Economics bubbles over with enthusiasm, as Boettke shows that our tradition is intellectually rich, robust and exciting to learn. The economic way of thinking, properly understood, studies real people. And Boettke clearly shows that our everyday lives are at stake if the lessons of economics continue to be misunderstood by pundits, politicians and the bulk of a misguided economics profession.
David L. Prychitko, Professor of Economics, Northern Michigan University
In Living Economics,Peter Boettke has written a compelling book that is part intellectual autobiography and part a discussion on what economics is, and how it should be taught. Professor Boettkes love of economics comes through on every page, and the book is filled with insights on the nature of economics and how it should be presented to students. His sympathy toward free-market ideas and the Austrian school of economics comes through clearly, and much of the book is devoted to discussing the ideas and work of major scholars who have influenced him. The book is delightful to read, and will appeal to both students and teachers of economics.
Randall G. Holcombe, DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics, Florida State University
This set of essays is Peter Boettke at his best; they are instructive, learned, entertaining and brilliant. Not only is Living Economics a must read but a very enjoyable read for todays economists and social scientists.
Richard Swedberg, Professor of Sociology, Cornell University
In Living Economics, Boettke expresses well the joy of economics, the expansion of ones own understanding of the process of social coordination we all benefit from, and the pure pleasure in communicating that understanding to students and others. He draws upon a deep well of teaching and guiding both undergraduate and graduate students and his lively advocacy of mainline economics, as opposed to mainstream economics, makes for an important read for anyone seeking to understand what economics is really all about.
P. J. Hill, Professor Emeritus of Economics, Wheaton College
Living Economics is a fascinating discussion of the increasingly-acknowledged-as-important field of Austrian economics and its main contributors. But more important is Peter Boettkes lessons not only on the importance of teaching about Austrian economics but how economics should be taught generally. Living Economics makes a useful tool for both students and their teachers.
Walter E. Williams, John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics, George Mason University
Reading the wonderful book Living Economics by Peter Boettke made me start loving economics, and I am sure it will inspire many more readers to do the same. It makes me optimistic for the return of real economics.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Distinguished Professor of Finance and Risk Engineering, New York University Polytechnic Institute; author, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
This is the book Pete Boettke was meant to write. . . . Im thrilled to see a book like this coming from Pete. Because it is exactly what he is about. Living Economics is about economics as a living, developing body of thought, springing from the roots of Richard Cantillon, Adam Smith, and David Hume, and blossoming today in the thought of Vernon Smith, James Buchanan, and Elinor Ostrom. It is, moreover, about economics as something that is to be lived. Economics, for Pete and this is something you can see in the work of his students like Christopher Coyne, Peter Leeson, and Ben Powellisnt an idle intellectual pursuit but a vital tool for understanding the world around you, from the lofty heights (or murky depths) of politics to the mundane details of ones day-to-day existence. Boettkes book traces what he calls the mainline of economic thoughtthe core questions and ideas that are alive in the work of Smith, Say, Mises, and others. These questions and ideas are what make economics the living discipline it is, in both of the senses described above. And while they might not always be in fashion the mainline isnt always mainstream their power is always there for anyone who takes the time to pick up the books and engage with them. . . . [T]his is an exciting book from one of the most exciting and productive teachers and scholars of economics alive today. I hope you all read it.
Matt Zwolinski, Professor of Philosophy, University of San Diego
This notable book collects 22 articles by Peter Boettke. . . . He displays a remarkable ability to portray sympathetically scholars of widely varying views; the book includes, e.g., valuable discussions of Warren Samuels, Peter Berger, Gordon Tullock, and Kenneth Boulding. . . . No one could read this book without being impressed by Boettke's wide knowledge. . . . Boettke's book merits the attention of all students of Austrian economics. Boettke's enthusiasm and devotion to a free economy are everywhere apparent.
It is rare to find a book on economics which is truly enjoyable. Peter Boettkes Living Economics is such an economics book. One can understand, reading these chapters, why Peter Boettke is such a very successful teacher. His knowledge and intellectual interests are much more far ranging than most, and his students have been the beneficiaries of his talents. . . . The dominant themes in Boettkes essays are methodological individualism and spontaneous order. . . . The reader will find Living Economics to be an occasion to learn and to enjoy.
Leonard P. Liggio, Executive Vice President, Atlas Economic Research Foundation
Peter Boettke is passionate about economics and he wants you, the reader, to share that passion. But his is a view of economics that is radically different to the mainstream view of the subject. His is an economics that is organic, narrative and exploratory. It is decidedly not the dry, mathematical pseudo-physics that seems to predominate in the popular media and in much of academia. Living Economics, which is aptly named, is Boettke's attempt to describe the Austrian school of economics to a new audience and to pass on both his love of the subject and the hope that the subject can be freed from the scientistic bias that substitutes mathematical models and theorems for the human touch. Simply put, Boettke thinks economics is too important a tool for understanding society to be left in the hands of those who currently dominate public discourse in the subject. Whether they be some form of state interventionist Keynesians or monetarist Friedmanites, Boettke's Austrian school of economics offers an alternative grounded in a philosophical view of the world that is radically different. . . . For those of us not versed in economics, this is an engaging and enlightening read. While it covers a wide range of topics, the writing is always clear and the author's love for his subject is infectious. The hope that shines through is that a new generation of economists will be inspired to break away from the sterile models of economic equilibrium and to look again at economics as a tool to explain what is out there rather than as a tool which can be wielded by a select few social technicians. Let's hope Boettke, and his fellow Austrian school economists, succeed.
London Review of Books
Living Economics reads over large sections as a fascinating history of economic thought analysis. Still, two things become evident when reading. First, not only the usual suspects are treated which one would expect from an Austrian. The persons to whom Boettke dedicates chapters vary widely and show the multitude of influences which shape his perception of Austrian Economics, treating e.g. the sociologist Peter Berger or the interdisciplinary borders-crosser Kenneth Boulding. Secondly, these analyses are not hagiographies but strictly critical pictures of thinkers who can contribute seminal impulses to the future research program of the school. . . . the author has succeeded in creating an impressive recurrent theme/leitmotif which gives the book a special cohesion. Boettke attempts to show that two approaches to economics can be discerned: mainstream economics as well as mainline economics. His principal goal is not to criticize the mainstream on methodological or epistemological grounds. Instead, he aims at synthesizing an alternative perspective on social phenomenaout of thinkers from Thomas Aquinas to James Buchananfor which he coins the term mainline economics. . . . The volume is easy to read. Most of the essays have so many layers that both the economically educated citizen and the specialist can profit from them. There is still a special target of the book, a special customer segment of economics: its students and young scholars. Boettke wants to convince them that the subject can be truly fascinating and that research programs off the beaten track can be particularly promising. Economics should not be allowed to degenerate into a monoculture. It has always profited from its dissidents, who quite often have initiated revolutions with their ideas.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Living Economics is a collection of essays, both new and old, which speak about Peter Boettkes ongoing relationship with economics both as a scholar and as a teacher. The book starts with several chapters dedicated to teaching economics, followed by essays focused on Peters intellectual influences, and concludes with five chapters about the practice of economics both in academia and in the real world. One of the defining terms of Living Economics is Peters notion of mainline economics, which, in contrast to mainstream economics, is a line of thought that dates back to the Late Scholastics. It was further developed by Menger, Mises and Hayek, and flourished in the form of modern Austrian economics, New Institutional economics, the new economic history of Douglass North, the law and economics of Ronald Coase, the public choice economics of James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, and the economics of governance associated with Oliver Williamson and Elinor Ostrom . . . The current state of the economic profession should not be seen as a reason to despair. Quite the contraryit is a unique opportunity for mainline economists to make contributions that (a) focus on important questions, (b) are based on rigorous empirically relevant research, and (c) do not overlook the unintended consequences of policies and institutions, the dynamic nature of the market process and the role of the entrepreneur. Living Economics can thus be read as a joyous manifesto for better and more relevant economic scholarship and teachingregardless of any methodological or ideological labels.
In Living Economics, Peter J. Boettke calls for economists to responsibly shape the minds of future generations. Boettkes fascination with and passion for economics is contagious. . . . Where did economics go wrong? is the title of one of the chapters in the latest book published by Peter J. Boettke; a question that many have been asking since the outbreak of the recent financial crisis. . . . According to Boettke, the fundamental problem lies in the teaching of the economic science. . . . Boettkes fascination with and passion for economics is contagious. Living Economics is a well-written book with many interesting insights even (or maybe especially) for those involved in mainstream economics highly criticized in the book. The chapters on the mission and teaching of economics will certainly be a great inspiration for current and future teachers of economics.
LSE Review of Books
It is a rare book that combines colorful elements of autobiography with lessons in history of thought fortified with offerings of inspired advice for the next generation of passionate economists. Yet this is what Peter Boettkes Living Economics delivers. Pete is a master craftsman known for his unstinting commitment to teaching both in and outside the conventional classroom. His book is a personal and joyful explanation of encounters with great teachers, both in person and through written wisdom that enabled him to form his own economic way of thinking and then to bring that emerging pattern of ideas to the classroom. Dedicated to teachers and teaching, the book is a story about the blossoming of Pete Boettkes brand of Austrian economics, what he terms mainline economics. Not a polemic, but still sparkling with passion, this well-written book will be enjoyed by a broad cross section of academics, lovers of ideas, and hopefully young economists and other social scientists just beginning their own life journey.
Review of Austrian Economics
'My love affair with economics began in the fall of 1979. With those words, Peter Boettke begins his valentine to the economics discipline, that is, his latest book: Living Economics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Independent Institute and Universidad Francisco Marroquin, 2012). . . . In an important sense, this book is autobiographical, the story of one mans odyssey through the world of economics and his efforts to get the teaching and doing of economics back on track. But it couldnt help but also be a useful introduction to the economic way of thinking. Not that it is a beginners bookits not. But an interested lay reader who realizes that economics can be about the world and hence is something to be taken seriously will learn a great deal. One need not have a degree in economics (I dont) to profit from Living Economics. This book is a useful discussion of why economics is valuable and how its potential has been squandered by several generations of distracted practitioners. . . . Throughout Boettkes book we find good advice for the student of society: Be humble. Social processes are too complex to justify hubris and social engineering. . . . I heartily recommend this book.
Sheldon Richman, Vice President, Future of Freedom Foundation
Our recommended read goes back to the roots of economic theory . . . The title and cover art for Peter Boettkes latest book Living Economics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow are no doubt symbolic of economic theory, as a field of study, and also the history of economic thought as an intellectual tradition. Like the tree on the cover, economic theory is itself like a living entity or tree. It is complex and frequently changing, always adapting to address the unique episodes of social history. But economics is also firmly rooted in a stable foundation of core theoretical substance: subjectivism, the rational choice framework and spontaneous order theory. . . . Boettke presents a unique and insightful perspective on the history of economic thought. . . . The ideas of Living Economics can, and arguably should, be taken as more than mere symbolism. To truly know economics is itself a lifestyle. In the near and distant future the prominence of mainline economic reasoning will be the result of the efforts of those eager and interested to investigate its history, research its operations and promote its insights. I imagine that this group of supporters will be Living Economists.
EA, The Magazine of the Institute of Economic Affairs