Nutshell: cold warrior burps up whirlwind dilettante's tour of the chrematistical arts.
Overall presents an affective dialectic, positioning various theorists of political economy in relationship to each other on the basis of how they feel about the future. Smith is pragmatically optimistic; Malthus and Ricardo are independently despairing; Owen, Fourier, Saint-Simon are presented as insanely optimistic; and so on. This presentation sweeps up the whole: “behind this diversity was a common thread, a thread of continuity which we should now stop to recognize. It was this: If one could divine the nature of the economic forces in the world, one could foretell the future
Though this approach to economics as a form of prophetics is generalized in this section, he nonetheless shows his philistine US roots by referring blithely to such things as “Marxian consecration of infallibility” (181) and other slurs suggesting religiosity--as though other economists thought that they were wrong, or that the US was not fanatically devoted to its variant of capitalism during the Palmer Raids. Marx is held responsible for the alleged “pattern of intolerance” of communism in general (139), such as “internal witch-hunts for ‘deviationists’ and ‘counterrevolutionaries’” (138), through his ”infuriating and absolute inability to entertain dissenting opinions, that autocratic air, and that antipathy for democracy which communism has inherited” (139-40). Incidentally, this hasty conclusion arises out of an (under-)analysis of Marx's dispute with Proudhon, which was carried out through the writing of contending pamphlets--telling, then, that this author regards strident disputation in writing to be "antipathy for democracy"--I suppose this reveals my own antipathy for democracy by disagreeing with author in writing. Such tyranny!
We see the blinkered US-orientation in how “the relationship of American corporations to their foreign hosts [sic] is not altogether the same as the typical imperialist relationship of the nineteenth century” (184) and “thus, we [sic] never became a formidable imperialist power” (185). Though he mentions the 1954 Guatemala operation and several other US crimes, the full measure of rightwing horror from the early cold war is much nastier than this author will acknowledge, which, by my reckoning for the years 1946 until 1967 (the year in which this edition of the text was published), the US committed crimes under international law in Thailand, France, Italy, Philippines, Colombia, Peru, Syria, Albania, Romania, Poland, Bolivia, DPRK, Egypt, Cuba, Guyana, Iran, Guatemala, Argentina, Vietnam, Hungary, Haiti, Japan, Iraq, Laos, Sudan, Lebanon, Nepal, Ecuador, South Korea, Turkey, Congo, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Honduras, Chile, Indonesia, and Greece.
None of that, surely, stamps the imprimatur of a capitalist consecration of infallibility, nor does it evidence an absolute inability to entertain dissenting opinions. Surely not, no! “We” rather have the “immeasurably more difficult and subtle task of persuading the world’s dispossessed that we are just as concerned with their lot, just as eager to aid reform as the Russians--although our means and slogans are less dramatic and our promises less tinged with paradise than theirs” (298). Easy to persuade all of those corpses, no? Why not go recruit some Nazi war criminals to help with all that? (cf. [b:Blowback America's Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effects on the Cold War|770896|Blowback America's Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effects on the Cold War|Christopher Simpson|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1178210928s/770896.jpg|756954].)
We know this is a hit piece in which the cold warrior lines up all of classical political economy against Herr Marx when--after frivolously suggesting that marxism acts religiously, even though all economics attempts to predict the future--he dicks up the summation of marxist theory: “For profits do tend to fall in an enterprise economy. The insight was not original with Marx, nor do profits fall for the reasons he gave--we can dispense with the idea of exploitation contained in the theory of surplus value” (148). This is of course a misstatement of the thesis that the rate of profit
tends to fall; the marxian formulation of that thesis is definitional, rooted in other terms of art, and not easily conflated with the cursory statements by other political economists on how profits go down as a matter of diminishing returns or because other capitals rush in to compete down the price.
Otherwise, safe to say that this text is in some ways the gold standard for non-fiction writing: lively in style, manifestly popularizing many thousands of economics pages into a slim, readable volume, witty, committed. Despite my critique, supra, the presentation of Marx is not completely dishonest, even though it holds marxism static with Marx himself, whereas bourgeois economics is presented as a continuing development and therefore continuously relevant and improving, whereas marxism is simply ossified stalinism--it’s nasty, and it means that he has not really serious.
Presentation of the “utopian socialists” is much too glib; presentation of Smith much too glowing; presentation of Keynes very much an adoration. Often gossipy and trivial, focusing on personal details (Veblen is an interesting cat--but this is economics?). Accordingly, not a substitute for a proper history of economic theory.