The Power of Independent Thinking

Living Economics
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Peter J. Boettke (Author)
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Peter J. Boettke (Author)
Hardcover • 456 pages • 5 figures • 2 tables • 6 x 9 inches • Index
ISBN-13: 978-1-59813-072-0
Publication Date: June 1, 2012
Publisher: The Independent Institute in cooperation with Universidad Francisco Marroquin
Educators: Request exam copy
Bulk discounts available: Learn more
Living Economics
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Peter J. Boettke (Author)
List Price: $39.95
Price: $33.95
Discount: $6.00 (Save 15%)
Free Shipping On Orders Over $60! (Within U.S.A.)
Hardcover • 456 pages • 5 figures • 2 tables • 6 x 9 inches • Index
ISBN-13: 978-1-59813-072-0
Publication Date: June 1, 2012
Publisher: The Independent Institute in cooperation with Universidad Francisco Marroquin
Educators: Request exam copy
Bulk discounts available: Learn more


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.

PDF Read the Preface (PDF, 8 pages)
PDF Read Chapter 1 (PDF, 15 pages)

2012 FEE Award for Best Book in Austrian Economics (November 2012) Presented by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in association with the Society for Development of Austrian Economics (SDAE)


Table of Contents


  1. Economics for Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow


  1. On the Tasks of Economics Education
  2. On Teaching Graduate Students in Austrian Economics
  3. Teaching Economics, Appreciating Spontaneous Order, and Economics as a Public Science


  1. Relevance as a Virtue: Hans Sennholz
  2. The Forgotten Contribution: Murray Rothbard on Socialism in Theory and Practice
  3. Mr. Boulding and the Austrians
  4. Putting the “Political” Back into Political Economy: Warren Samuels
  5. Maximizing Behavior and Market Forces: Gordon Tullock
  6. Methodological Individualism, Spontaneous Order, and the Research Program of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis: Vincent and Elinor Ostrom
  7. Is the Only Form of "Reasonable Regulation" Self-Regulation? Elinor Ostrom
  8. The Matter of Methodology: Don Lavoie
  9. Invitation to Political Economy: Peter Berger and the Comedic Drama of Political, Economic, and Social Life
  10. Was Mises Right?
  11. The Genius of Mises and the Brilliance of Kirzner
  12. Hayek and Market Socialism: Science, Ideology, and Public Policy
  13. James M. Buchanan and the Rebirth of Political Economy


  1. Where Did Economics Go Wrong? Modern Economics as a Flight from Reality
  2. Man as Machine
  3. The Limits of Economic Expertise
  4. High Priests and Lowly Philosophers part 1v: conclusion
  5. A Few Critical Paragraphs That Should Shape What We Teach, Economics: Smith, Mises and Hayek

About the Author

Detailed Summary

Summary PDF
4 pages, 646 KB

  • 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 didn’t 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 progeny—all 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 didn’t 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 in—and who may be hostile to—the 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 economics—from before Adam Smith on down to the present—have always impressed upon the public their discipline’s 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 century—famous 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.

Boettke’s thorough diagnosis of the maladies of today’s economics profession is especially valuable. He concludes by urging his colleagues to return to their discipline’s 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-authors—Christopher Coyne, Steve Horwitz, Peter Leeson, David L. Prychitko, and Frederic Sautet—eagerly 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.

Teaching Economics

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 concept—one 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, Sennholz’s 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 didn’t the Soviet economy collapse sooner? Boettke explains how he utilized Rothbard’s insights in his own works about the Soviet economy.

Kenneth Boulding is seldom mentioned in conjunction with Austrian economics—one reason is that he was a veritable school unto himself—but 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 Boulding’s 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, Buchanan’s 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 Berger’s 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 don’t “speak for themselves”; the relevant facts must be selected and interpreted, and those steps rely on valid principles. Mises’s 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 isn’t 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 Mises’s 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: Hayek’s 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 Hayek’s 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? Buchanan’s 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 Samuelson’s 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 Boettke’s 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 Boettke’s 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 Boettke’s extraordinary intellectual generosity and unmatched intellectual enthusiasm—rare 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. Boettke’s prolific pen is dipped, not in the all-too-common ink of professional one-up-manship, but in the inkwell of an earnest, utterly benevolent—and brilliant—scholar, seeking, with all his intellectual integrity, to learn and to understand.”
Israel M. Kirzner, Professor Emeritus of Economics, New York University

Boettke’s 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 Boettke’s 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 Smith’s 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.”
Public Choice

“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. Dana Professor of Economics, St. Lawrence University

“I am very pleased with Peter Boettke’s 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 Boettke’s 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 time—but Professor Boettke thinks that it is not too late—to 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 Boettke’s 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. It’s all about what he received from his teachers (broadly defined) and what he, in turn, has imparted to his students. Boettke’s 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 surprises—like an entire chapter on my former professor, Kenneth Boulding. Boettke’s 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 Boettke’s 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 Boettke’s 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 Boettke’s 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 Boettke’s Living Economics is literally his personal statement about living with and living through economics. But be careful as you read. Boettke’s love affair with economics is contagious. You will find yourself cheering for more.”
Bruce Yandle, Professor of Economics Emeritus, Clemson University

“I have just finished reading Living Economics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, a wonderful collection of essays by Peter Boettke. . . . I read the book from cover to cover and enjoyed it from start to finish. . . . It will be a rare graduate student—or even a practicing professional economist—who cannot learn a great deal from the book. Pete writes clearly and well and has a deep knowledge of the history of economics. His excitement for teaching and learning shines forth on nearly every page. He has a true intellectual’s outlook, which means that he is constantly looking at anyone’s writing with the question in mind, What can I learn from this exposition? He has great willingness to set aside, at least for the moment, opportunities to criticize a scholar’s work, focusing instead on the work’s positive, worthwhile aspects. . . . So, my advice is that you buy the book, read it, learn from it, keep it handy for future reference, and take its solid advice to heart. You’ll know more and better economics if you do.”
Robert Higgs, author, Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government; Founding Editor, The Independent Review

“’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. Some authors claim that zombie ideas are to be blamed—economic ideas that are neither alive nor dead, but they continue to underlie the thinking of some economists and policy-makers. According to Boettke, the fundamental problem lies in the teaching of the economic science. . . . Although the book seeks to encourage independent thinking, it mainly focuses on the tradition of mainline economics – not to be confused with mainstream economics. Boettke defines mainstream economics as the line of research currently fashionable among the academic profession and results in the most papers published. Mainline economics instead describes a set of propositions common to economic and philosophical writers, starting from Thomas Aquinas, through Late Scholastics, Adam Smith, Austrian economics and representatives of New Institutional Economics. Mainline economics concentrates on the human being pursuing their interest and the institutional framework that enables these individual interests to flourish, leading to economic growth. According to Boettke, it is mainline economics that will bring the performance of economics back on track after the crisis. . . . Boettke’s 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.”
London School of Economics Review of Books

“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 Boettke’s 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. Boettke’s 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. Boettke’s 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 author’s 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 Boettke’s ‘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 Boettke’s 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 Boettke’s 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 today’s economists and social scientists.”
Richard Swedberg, Professor of Sociology, Cornell University

“In Living Economics, Boettke expresses well the ‘joy of economics,’ the expansion of one’s 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 Boettke’s 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

“Economics is not merely a game to be played by clever professionals, but a discipline that touches upon the most pressing practical issues at any historical juncture. The wealth and poverty of nations is at stake; the length and quality of life turns on the economic conditions individuals find themselves living within. In Living Economics, Peter J. Boettke calls for economists to responsibly shape the minds of future generations. Boettke’s fascination with and passion for economics is contagious. . . . The recent global financial crisis showed the need for redefining economics as a science and has made it clear that we should not confuse economics with engineering sciences. According to Boettke, now is the time to introduce changes into the discipline. A new group of well-trained economists is needed and this is where teachers of economics come into play. They have the responsibility that students come to see economics as ‘both an illuminating and entertaining discipline and a discipline that tackles the most important questions of our age where questions of life and death hang in the balance.’”
San Francisco Review of Books

“This is the book Pete Boettke was meant to write. . . . I’m 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 Powell—isn’t 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 one’s day-to-day existence. Boettke’s book traces what he calls the “mainline” of economic thought—the 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” isn’t 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.”
Mises Daily

“It is rare to find a book on economics which is truly enjoyable. Peter Boettke’s 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 Boettke’s 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 phenomena—out of thinkers from Thomas Aquinas to James Buchanan—for 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 Boettke’s 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 Peter’s 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 Peter’s 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 contrary—it 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 teaching—regardless of any methodological or ideological labels.”
Economic Affairs

“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 Boettke’s 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 Boettke’s 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 man’s odyssey through the world of economics and his efforts to “get the teaching and doing of economics back on track.” But it couldn’t help but also be a useful introduction to the economic way of thinking. Not that it is a beginner’s book—it’s 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 don’t) 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 Boettke’s 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 Boettke’s 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

“Peter Boettke, Living Economics, 2012. This the best introduction to what contemporary Austrian economists are interested in and how they think about the communication of economic ideas. The book is really about Boettke’s passion for economics and how that plays out in the thinkers he finds interesting and the issues he thinks economics should be addressing. The essays reproduced in this volume cover all of that and more, and do a particularly good job at showing why Austrians should also be interested in Public Choice economics and the work of the Ostroms and the Bloomington School. This is not necessarily a book you’d want to give to someone with no economics training, but is ideal for an undergraduate or an adult who has done some reading on their own and who wants to drink deeply from Boettke’s passion for economics and the Austrian school.”



2012 Foundation for Economic Education Awards

  • Best Book in Austrian Economics

  • One of The Five Best Introductory Books in Austrian Economics


Media Inquiries
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“My Life as an Austrian Economist: My Philosophical Vision and the Critique of Scientism” Research Fellow Peter J. Boettke, author of Living Economics Op-Ed on The Library of Economics and Liberty Mon., May. 20, 2024
“Gun Control, States’ Rights, and Bernie Sanders” Living Economics by Research Fellow Peter J. Boettke, cited on American Institute for Economic Research Tue., May. 17, 2022
“The Five Best Introductory Books in Austrian Economics” Living Economics by Research Fellow Peter Boettke is mentioned on The Library of Economics and Liberty Wed., Dec. 11, 2019
Living Economics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow by Research Fellow Peter J. Boettke is reviewed in San Francisco Review of Books Sun., May. 20, 2018
“Peter Boettke’s Splendid Essays on Learning and Teaching Economics,” by Robert Higgs praises Living Economics, by Peter Boettke (The Beacon) Sun., Jun. 5, 2016
“The Transformative Rise of Austrian Economics” Research Fellow Peter Boettke, author of Living Economics interviewed on The Daily Bell Mon., Jan. 26, 2015
Living Economics By Research Fellow Peter J. Boettke is reviewed by Jeffrey Tucker on Fri., Jul. 25, 2014
“Stiglitz on the Economic Malaise The Plagues Europe and the US” Research Fellow and author of Living Economics Peter Boettke in Wed., Jan. 15, 2014
“Keynesian Yellen At Fed: Status Quo” Op-Ed by Peter Boettke, author of Living Economics in Thu., Nov. 7, 2013
“Will Online Education Render Traditional College Obsolete?” Living Economics By Research Fellow Peter Boettke is mentioned in Forbes Online Tue., Oct. 29, 2013
“Progressives Believe in Money Magic” Research Fellow Peter J. Boettke, author of Living Economics is quoted in The New American Tue., Apr. 2, 2013
Living Economics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow by Research Fellow Peter J. Boettke is reviewed in London School of Economics and Political Science Tue., Mar. 26, 2013
Living Econcomics:Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow By Peter Boettke is reviewed in Economic Affairs Tue., Feb. 12, 2013
“Why Wicksteed Matters” Peter Boettke, author of “Living Economics” mentioned in Laissez Faire Today Wed., Jan. 30, 2013
“Boettke on Living Economics” Research Fellow Peter Boettke talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about his book Living Economics Tue., Jan. 29, 2013
London Book Review favorably reviews Living Economics by Research Fellow Peter Boettke Fri., Jan. 4, 2013
“The Public Purpose of Economics -- The Education of Students” Peter Boettke article in Mon., Nov. 12, 2012
“Bono, Babel, and the Myth of Economist as Savior” Research Fellow Peter Boettke and his book “Living Economics” quoted in Acton Institute Power Blog Fri., Oct. 26, 2012
Foundation for Economic Education Awards Living Economics by Research Fellow Peter J. Boettke Best Book in Austrian Economics Award Thu., Oct. 25, 2012
“What Good Are Labels in Scientific Discourse?” by Living Economics author Peter Boettke on Tue., Sep. 18, 2012
Peter Boettke, author of Living Economics interviewed in article “Economist Peter Boettke Deflates Candidates’ Concept of Energy Independence” Thu., Sep. 6, 2012
Public Choice favorably reviews the Independent Institute’s book Living Economics, by Peter Boettke Wed., Sep. 5, 2012
Living Economics is favorably reviewed by Leonard Liggio at the Atlas Network Blog Wed., Aug. 15, 2012
NEW BOOK RELEASE-Living Economics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow by Research Fellow Peter J. Boettke. Get your copy today! Fri., Jun. 1, 2012
Research Fellow Peter J. Boettke’s new book Living Economics highlighted in The Freeman Wed., May. 30, 2012

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