Free Market Economics 2nd ed

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When I wrote the first edition of my Free Market Economics in 2009, I thought of it even then as the best introduction to economic theory anywhere. It combined five features that were unique to this book: an uncompromising anti-Keynesian core, a microeconomics that rejected the notion of an equilibrium, a focus on the role of the entrepreneur, a discussion of the classical theory of the cycle and the installation of uncertainty as the crucial element in any serious discussion of how an economy runs.

I also had no idea how much more I wanted to say until I came to write the second edition which to my eyes has transcended the first, having been fashioned out of what I learned by teaching the first edition for five years while watching how economic events unfolded following the stimulus. You may only have the author’s word for it here, but there is no book like it. If you want to understand how an economy works based on the English tradition in economic theorising that goes from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill, there is literally only a single place you can go. The book reverses two “revolutions” in economics, not just the Keynesian of the 1930s, but the marginalist revolution of the 1870s as well. It is a companion volume to David Simpson’s wonderful The Rediscovery of Classical Economics, also co-published by the IEA. Reading the two will provide you with an understanding of just what is wrong with economic theory today. That traditional policy based on standard economic theory is ruining our economies is beyond any doubt, but the reason why that is so will nevertheless remain incomprehensible to anyone who continues to believe that aggregate demand is a valid concept in trying to make sense of economic events or that equilibrium has much if anything to do with how an economy works.

My Free Market text was written in a kind of white heat over twelve weeks as the text for the course I was giving during the first months of the worldwide introduction of stimulus packages pretty well everywhere. The absolute dead certainty I had was that public sector spending whose only aim was to create jobs would end in disaster, as it most assuredly has. Our economies are sinking under the weight of massive levels of unproductive public spending and debt levels that continuously subvert every attempt to wind them back. Yet you cannot go to any standard economics text even for an inkling of why that is.

To understand any of this you must first understand Say’s Law. Say’s Law was the bedrock principle of economic theory from the earliest years of the nineteenth century until swept away in a fit of distraction by the publication of Keynes’s General Theory in 1936. It is founded on recognising that only value adding production can create economic growth and add to the number of jobs. The most central chapter in the book is the chapter on Value Added, a chapter found in no other text that I know of. Yet without understanding value added, understanding that every form of production not just creates more goods and services but also at the same time uses up existing goods and services during the production process, it is impossible to think about public spending and economic policy correctly. Only if what is produced has greater value than the resources used up can an economy grow. Government spending seldom creates value. The stimulus was therefore doomed to fail as is so much of the policy matrix found today.

The strangest part about the book, however, was for me to discover my own beliefs on the nature of economic theory. There is not a chapter in it that would fit into a standard economics text. All of it takes you back to an earlier time and a different theoretical matrix. Space is too short to tell you much more but let me draw you to the cover which shows a water mill on a plaque made of clay. This is because the two most important influences on my own way of thinking have been two of the greatest economists England has ever produced, John Stuart Mill and Henry Clay.

I can do no more than encourage you to read this book. It is a defence of the market economy published at a time when there may never been a greater need for such a defence.

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