What lies behind the veil of economics? Power and ideology, answers Robert Heilbroner--the power of our economic involvement in society to shape the ways we think about it; the visions and values that add unsuspected ideological color to our economic beliefs about it. Most important, Heilbroner shows why economics has become the reigning form of social inquiry and how we might penetrate its mystique.
Economist Heilbroner (The Nature and Logic of Capitalism, 1985; etc.) is given to elegant inquiries whose findings strike lay observers as painfully obvious or merely common-sensical. This time around, he explores the domain of economics, eventually reaching the conclusion that it is most gainfully considered "as the means by which we strive to make a workable science of morality." With Heilbroner, though, getting there is more than half the fun - and profit. In reviewing and rejecting all-purpose theories from some of the dismal science's noted practitioners - e.g., Horvat, Keynes, Marx, Mill, Ricardo - he makes a wealth of thought-provoking points. To illustrate, the author generally agrees with Schumpeter that without vision there can be no analysis. On the other hand, he warns that most economists are closet ideologues who tend lo render value judgments because they do not start their investigations from wholly disinterested positions. In Heilbroner's book, economics "is the process by which society marshalls and coordinates the activities required for its provisioning." From this deceptively simple postulate, he roves about, challenging conventional wisdom on capitalism, exchange rates, labor, markets, profit, and allied institutions. Along similar lines, the author charges his lodge brothers (past and present) with holding myopic views that fail to put economic systems into either historical or behavioral perspective. As one unfortunate consequence, they are apt to overlook the possibilities as well as limitations of their order-bestowing regimes. Heilbroner's acute critique raises at least as many questions as it answers about the role economics can play in any industrialized nation. His accessible text in nonetheless a welcome addition to the literature, since it directly addresses key issues like personal liberty and systemic subordination. (Kirkus Reviews)