Roger E. Backhouse and Bradley W. Bateman: Wanted: Worldly Economists

Roundup: Historians' Take

Roger E. Backhouse, a professor of economic history at the University of Birmingham, and Bradley W. Bateman, a professor of economics at Denison University, are the authors of “Capitalist Revolutionary: John Maynard Keynes.”

...Course lists from economics departments used to be filled with offerings in “comparative economic systems,” contrasting capitalism and socialism or comparing the French, Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon models of capitalism.

Such courses arose in the context of the cold war, when the battle with the Soviet Union was about showing that our system was better than theirs. But with the demise of the Soviet Union, that motivation disappeared. Globalization, so it is claimed, has created a single system of capitalism driven by international competition (ignoring the very real differences between, say, China and the United States). We now have an economics profession that hardly ever discusses its fundamental subject, “capitalism.”

Many economists say that what matters are questions like whether markets are competitive or monopolistic, or how monetary policy works. Using broad, ill-defined notions like capitalism invites ideological grandstanding and distracts from the hard technical problems....

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