Keynes vs Hayek (Nicholas Wapshott, 2012)

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Keynes vs Hayek: the clash that defined modern economics, by Nicholas Wapshott (2012).

Score: I’m not sure who the target audience for this book is.

This essay seeks to document and illustrate (but not explain or analyze) the theoretical conflict between John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek. Like, literally, that’s the only thing it does.

I defy anybody―Keynesian, Hayekian, or uncommitted―to read [Wapshott’s] work and not learn something new.”, happily chants this quote by John Cassidy on the blurb. I, a person with very basic knowledge of economics, didn’t learn anything relevant to my interests from it. I put it down after chapter 7 when it looked like it was going to be all the same until the end, and the only things I recall learning about the subject at hand is that Keynes had a very close-knit fanclub and Hayek was tall and awkward, spoke broken English and drew diagrams that nobody understood.

Adding background and anecdotes is not a problem (see Schopenhauer and the wild years of philosophy). The problem is that the actual theoretical content is never explained. I tried so hard to follow the arguments but kept asking the book questions it never answered, like: ‘Why was it important to abandon the gold standard?’, ‘Why is inflation good or bad?’, ‘What is the European theory of capital and why does it matter here?’ Wapshott just goes to the sources and starts quoting back and forth, without ever bothering to make sure the reader understands what’s going on. This reads like an essay from someone who didn’t fully grasp the source material so they quote it and parrot it in hopes it looks like they know what they’re saying.

I expected this book to explain, compare and contrast Keynes’ and Hayek’s economic theories, but maybe that’s not what the author set out to do. It’s got great reviews on Amazon, probably from people who know the answers to all those questions I had and who claim it helped them understand the current economical situation. On the other hand, Greg Ransom from hayekcenter.org, who looks like he knows a thing or two about economy, points out factual errors and poor documenting on Wapshott’s part.

I can definitely say it’s hard to follow and not very instructive if you’re not already familiar with the terms it’s discussing. I don’t know if it’s worth reading if you know more economy than me.

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