The Story of Economic Genius

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sylvia Nasar talks about the birth of modern economics, and how it rescued mankind from squalor and deprivation. In Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius Nasar looks at the role of Charles Dickens and Henry Mayhew in bringing to light the conditions of the poor majority in mid-19th-century London, the richest city in the world. She describes how activist thinkers—from Marx, Engels, Alfred Marshall, Beatrice and Sydney Webb, and the American Irving Fisher to John Maynard Keynes and American economists Paul Samuelson and Milton Freedman to India’s Amartya Sen—transformed the world.


Sylvia Nasar

Comments [37]

VanessaL from CT

I'll bet most people posting here in support of Marx's socialist theories have never lived, or done business in countries with socialist histories. They are tragic, demoralizing places. The people are starved for enterprise. Just spend some time in the former Soviet Union, have your heart broken, and come back here and appreciate that we don't, for the most part, follow those ideas here in the US.

Though we do have social programs that evidence what can go wrong with this kind of govt market interference.

Recently a family member with a low income attempted to purchase a home. The price was very attractive, surprisingly very low. We were going to help them buy the house, so we went to take a look. As we drove into the neighborhood, which looked fairly nice, my husband immediately said, "Something is wrong here." As I looked around, I realized what he meant. Every house looked the exact same. There had been no improvements to them since the 1950's. They were deceptively well-maintained (because the local govt organization in charge of the neighborhood, patrols it, and will fine those who do not upkeep, as it turned out).

We got to the house, where our family member appeared very disheartened. It turned out to be a govt sponsored program involved in the purchase of the homes in this neighborhood. Once there, you will never leave. Because -- get this -- you were not ALLOWED to make more than a nominal profit on a future sale of the home. You would never be able to actually use the home as an asset, because it would never keep market value. The home was incredibly small. And, prior to the discovery that a market-size profit for a future sale was against the govt rules, my family member was talking about all the improvements he would make on the home for his growing family. Thing is, when educated on how the govt program worked, he realized that investment in the home would be a foolish endeavor, as he would never make that money back if he needed or wanted to sell later on.

I found this experience very eye-opening about what happens when govt gets involved in manipulating markets.

Oct. 03 2011 12:41 AM
Enrique Escobar from Elizabeth NJ

Robert from NYC, and robbo203.., you guys could have not said it better.

Is funny how in this hungry world, looted by transnationals and the consumerism of our capitalists countries, the thinking process and conclusions of Marx (not only in the economic side, since his whole work is the discredited Dialectic Materialism) are revisited and called by many experts "almost infallible" (especially lately)..,
along comes AN IDIOT to do exactly what Robert said: play ball for the ruling establishment by ridiculing a greater mind.

All because is their evident historical threat.

I guess she really wanted to talk about Milton Friedman... "Thank god" air-time didn't let her.

Sep. 27 2011 02:01 PM
Louisa from Cambridge

Keynes did not change his sexual orientation - has Ms. Nasar never heard of bisexuality?

Sep. 27 2011 01:46 PM
Robert from NYC

Listening to this moron Nasar, whose only contribution to thought, was derisive laughter at the mention of Marx, made me think of the state of this society in general.
Our 'Idiocracy' is based on the indoctrination of the population by subtle, insidious propaganda where Marxist ideas are dangereous to the ruling establishment. Thus, it is to be ignored, ridiculed and demonized in discussing the ever-failings of the manic-depressive Capitalist economy. Capitalism only works for short spurs, during its manic phases. Just as oftenon the other hand, it is an inhumane disaster when unfortunate millions pay for its failings.
Marx's ideas are not dead.
The house of cards that Nasar supports and represents, has yet to survive the judgements of history.
Unfortunately, right now, we have half-wits like her in charge of our system.

Sep. 27 2011 11:21 AM

jgarbuz from Queens

I dont think you understand the first thing about marxian economics, It is in fact the very point that Marx makes - that commodities have value only insofar as they are sold on a market. Moreover it is only as a generalisation that value (socially necessary labour time) equates with prices. In reality prices almost always diverge from their relative value content even if the totality of prices equates with the totality of values produced

If workers are not the source of profits who are? The capitalists? Why bother to employ a worker in that case?

Sep. 27 2011 03:50 AM
David from Tucson

Good grief. This woman sounds like a self indulgent idiot. What a waste of time. Having learned absolutely nothing I'm turning off the program.

Sep. 27 2011 12:51 AM
Jessie Henshaw from way uptown

It's so very curious that Keynes wrote the concluding chapter of his growth theory on the natural end of growth, but we'er not discussing it. That's Chapter 16, the last theory chapter before the review chapters of The General Theory.

He points to the real certainty that when increasing investment becomes decreasingly profitable for the system as a whole (as at present) it becomes essential to end the concentration of wealth to preserve financial stability. No discussion seems to have developed about the rather clear physical science his observations on that. It's just astounding to me.

Sep. 26 2011 05:16 PM

Haven't read her book, so I can't comment on it. Having only heard this interview, Sylvia Nasar comes across as a half-educated toolbag. Nuance? No. Understanding? No. Eloquence at least? No.

Sep. 26 2011 04:28 PM

Since WNYC deleted my previous comment, I feel entitled to add another one.

Regardless of Sylvia Nasar communication style - giggles, pauses, etc. - I found her statements to be factually incorrect.

Her statements regarding Karl Marx were deliberately misleading - she is wrong regarding his income, the working conditions of the time, his economic theory and its influence.

Unfortunately, the interviewer could not ask relevant questions in order to expose her mendacity.

Sep. 26 2011 01:07 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

@jgarbuz from Queens

Actually, I think she knows we're in the toilet. She just forget to add that we'll still be behind the 8 ball. ;~)

Sep. 26 2011 12:54 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

@jgarbuz from Queens

Ha ha very funny!

(yeah probably)

Sep. 26 2011 12:49 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

TO Sophie

I don't think she meant our homes or our cars will be 2 to 4 times as large as today. Maybe she meant that more automation and robotics will make life even easier. Of course, to afford a private robot to take care of oneself or one's grandma or grandpa will probably be out of reach of the masses for a while. But hopefully, someone will get me one,or Medicare? :)

Sep. 26 2011 12:47 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Some of you bloggers are just plain cruel and so intolerant.

Must you be "entertained" 100% of the time?


Sep. 26 2011 12:43 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Ha! Two generations from now we'll have 2-4 times the income prosperity?! In the meantime, we go down the toilet!

Sep. 26 2011 12:41 PM

In 30 years, our lives 2 or 4 times better?! She's delusional.

The average American is _worse_ off than 40 years ago.

The Nasar-types are doing everything possible to make this worse.

Sep. 26 2011 12:40 PM
Joe from NJ

@Theresa from Brooklyn: Thank you, the ah....words....or, all the of my...mouth.

Sep. 26 2011 12:37 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Interviewer and interviewee seem to be both struggling here. Painful listening.

Sep. 26 2011 12:37 PM
Tom from Upper West Side

Worst interview subject - EVER!

Sep. 26 2011 12:36 PM
Markus from New Jersey

Why has there been no mention of Ludwig Von Mises. He is one of the greatest economists in history. His ideas have consistently withstood the test of time and his life is quite dramatic: Austrian economists who fled the Nazis to Switzerland and came to the U.S.

Sep. 26 2011 12:34 PM
Amy from Manhattan

herb: It's worth studying fail systems to understand why they failed & what might work better.

mick: Try disagreeing without being insulting, & sexist on top of it. And you call the *guest* inarticulate?

Sep. 26 2011 12:33 PM
Theresa from Brooklyn

The ideas and information may be great, but the speaker is impossible to listen to.

Sep. 26 2011 12:30 PM

If Sylvia Nasar is going to construct her saints and devils, lets note that the Herbert Spencer of whom Beatrice Webb was fond was a notorious eugenicist. Do we need to mention which 20th century movement was attached to eugenics?

Sep. 26 2011 12:30 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The problem with "social sciences" such as Economics, is that you cannot put an economy into a laboratory and use mice instead of people. Which is not to say that how people operate should not be studied, but it is very difficult to very predictive except within very narrow constraints.

But even in the natural sciences, such as physics or the life sciences, not everything has been tied together neatly with a ribbon and "case closed" written on the box. The more we see, the more new questions arise.

Even Medical science still has a lot to learn.

Sep. 26 2011 12:30 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Sylvia describes Marx's influence (whether you agree or not) like a six old - rather disappointing

Sep. 26 2011 12:27 PM
Amy from Manhattan

If Marx "never worked a day in his life," where did his top-2% income come in from? Did Engels actually have that much left over for him after supporting himself?

Sep. 26 2011 12:26 PM

Sylvia talks slowly, but that does not mean that she knows her subject.

Marx was poor. It was Engels who was rich - he inherited a factory.

Marx had NO INCOME, was supported by Engels, and died in poverty

Sep. 26 2011 12:26 PM

Can Sylvia Nasar point to an economist whose predictions were right? Friedman?

The best we can point to are Samuelson and Keynes, both of whom would give Marx a lot more credit than a dishonest Nasar seems to be capable of admitting.

Sep. 26 2011 12:23 PM
K. Perkins

What on earth could she possibly mean by her claim that Marx "already knew the answers before he started?" The answers he developed in the Grundrisse? In Capital Vol. 1? I've never heard such an inarticulate pseudo-intellectual account of Marx's economics in my life. The economic history he gives in Capital, in particular focusing on the British classical economists, is still read in all of the best business schools in the US; the same goes for his account of the function of value in the capitalist production system.

Sep. 26 2011 12:21 PM
mick from Manhattan

Who wrote this bimbo's book for her? The Heritage Foundation? She sounds as ignorant as she is inarticulate.

Sep. 26 2011 12:21 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Yes, her choppy way of speaking is hard to listen to.

Interesting topic though.

Sep. 26 2011 12:20 PM

Sylvia Nasar's characterization of Marx is stunningly blinkered and borderline ignorant — which is hard to believe, since she is obviously well-informed, so it's hard not to conclude that she is deliberately misrepresenting his positions.

If you want to pick an economist who concocted facts, take right-wing extremist Milton Friedman, whose fast and loose treatment of fact is well-documented.

Sep. 26 2011 12:19 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

"Rabbi" Karl Marx started a false religion which like all false religions, ultimately fail. He was supported by Engels, another Jew whose father owned a textile plant.

The basis thesis of Karl Marx's analysis in Kapital is totally flawed. It assumed that wealth is created by workers and the profits are theft from the workers by the bosses. In fact, workers only make "things," and those things have no economic value at all UNTIL THEY ARE SOLD at above cost. i.e. at a profit. In fact wealth is profits.

Sep. 26 2011 12:19 PM

can someone please give her a red-bull.
i'm sure she' brilliant , but what snoozefest speaker

Sep. 26 2011 12:16 PM
Laura from UWS

Questions to start with=
Please define Economics.
Please define Capitalism

Thank you.

Sep. 26 2011 11:57 AM
Enrique Escobar from Elizabeth NJ

Can your guest elaborate on Neoliberlaism?

And, has modern economics "rescued" us from indirect and direct genocide?

Sep. 26 2011 11:47 AM

I downloaded this book last Thursday and I am about 25% done, man what a book so far. The research, the level of scholarship is just brilliant. I can only imagine the amount of work that went into it and for that Prof Nasar, I say thank you.

Sep. 26 2011 10:32 AM
herb from nyc

is there any need for experts in systems that fail? and in failing depressed & murdered its' citizens.

Sep. 26 2011 08:58 AM

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