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Licence to be Bad 'It is going to change the way in which we understand many modern debates about economics politics and society' Ha Joon Chang author of 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism Over the past fifty years the way we value what is 'good' and 'right' has changed dramatically Behaviour that to our grandparents' generation might have seemed stupid harmful or simply wicked now seems rational natural woven into the very logic of things And asserts Jonathan Aldred in this revelatory new book it's economics that's to blame Licence to be Bad tells the story of how a group of economics theorists changed our world and how a handful of key ideas from free riding to Nudge seeped into our decision making and indeed almost all aspects of our lives Aldred reveals the extraordinary hold of economics on our morals and values Economics has corrupted us But if this hidden transformation is so recent it can be reversed Licence to be Bad shows us where to beginOver the past fifty years the way we value what is 'good' and 'right' has changed dramatically Behaviour that to our grandparents' generation might have seemed stupid harmful or simply wicked now seems rational natural woven into the very logic of things And asserts Jonathan Aldred in this revelatory new book it's economics that's to blame Licence to be Bad tells the story of how a group of economics theorists changed our world and how a handful of key ideas from free riding to Nudge seeped into our decision making and indeed almost all aspects of our lives Aldred reveals the extraordinary hold of economics on our morals and values Economics has corrupted us But if this hidden transformation is so recent it can be reversed Licence to be Bad shows us where to begin

10 thoughts on “Licence to be Bad

  1. Marks54 Marks54 says:

    Big time academic economics is a strange area at times and is certainly an acuired taste Theory has been highly abstract and mathematical for uite a while and the empirical tribulations of trying to show evidence in the world for some theoretical claim are daunting Readers of popular books and policy summaries may easily fail to notice that this is also an elaborate occupation here with its own detailed rules and status orderings Academic jobs that pay well are highly competitive and much of the work and pay may come from consulting litigation support or other advisory activities and then there are the journal articles dense abstract with lots of numbers and symbols not very accessible to most readers It sometimes seems as if one has stumbled on an alternate cultureJonathan Aldred’s new book provides an intelligent and probing look at some of the backstories and inside baseball of contemporary economics The focal theme is that to build their area economists have developed a detailed logic of “rational man” homo economicus and provided a simplified story of individual greed and autonomy as the basic story for how people do and should act in the brave new world of game theory public choice economics behavioral economics strategic contracting and the world of perfect competition the cost disease and the minimal state This is a generally well done tour of some key topic areas and is well written and highly informativeIt is easy enough to dismiss some of the artificiality of these theories and models as the reuirements of finding solutions to models or addressing statistical problems The key to the book however is how these ideas have come to be treated as mainstream and even commonplace in current politics regulation and corporate management People in power have come to accept this stuff and economists have come to believe their own theoretical simplifications as being true The trouble of course is that real people do not seem to behave this way or did not at least and Alfred suggests that by embedding economic excesses in rules and regulations they may come to be adopted by the people involved who will then start behaving according to the dictates of “rational man”The tone of the book is highly critical and in my opinion Professor Aldred is both withering and effective in his critiues Perhaps the brush is a bit too broad In all fairness however I know many who understand the game and do not believe their own witticisms about selfish behavior There are many critics both in and outside the field who have made similar criticisms as wellHaving said that I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it struck numerous chords with me It works as a distinct criticism If it prompts people to read further that is even better

  2. Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin says:

    Keynes uip that every person who considers themselves a practical person of action is in thrall to some dead economist or other Economic thinking contains values and shapes our view of the permissible Economics in the mid twentieth century the author pins it on Austrian School Chicago Boys and Strangelovian characters at the Rand Corporation but the villain is homo economicus becoming the paragon of ethics is the problem We abstracted away a lot of moral strictures in the pursuit of being good value maximizers that we took off a lot of guardrails that were out of bounds in simpler times I get the point when you shoehorn people into the role of little Pac mans gobbling up utility points of money you get a perverse idea of what is acceptable in law and politics Still while I agree on the perversity of the current dispensation and respect some older taboos but I can't help thinking this is the same kind of argument a bible thumper can make on novel ideas like gay marriage because they are recent innovations An economic critiue is needed but I don't think a decline narrative is an apt one from a better time economically As much as I loathe the economic players involved in neoliberalism it is not taboo breaking that bothers me but on what they want to do with their economic thinking and on whose behalf they work for that bothers me

  3. Simon Tidd Simon Tidd says:

    I really enjoyed this book The author takes a critical look at some of the major trends and schools of thought in contemporary economicsHe first provides an overview of the significant figures involved in each be they Nobel prize winners authors etc Then he discusses the thinking it's interpretation and its effect on modern economics and societyOften the interpretation is not as originally intended by the major proponents of the initial research His conclusion and general thread is that economics has gone a bit off trackI found it well written and accessible It was interesting to hear about names I'd heard of but knew little about

  4. Mikaela Mikaela says:

    If you read Swedish I have written a longer review in Smedjan which will be published shortly In summary Aldred basically makes the same old tired criticisms against neoliberalism and disguises it as criticism of economics I had many an angry rant while reading it and I was not very impressed by his critiue

  5. Anagha M. Anagha M. says:

    A appropriate sub heading would be How Neoliberal Economics Corrupted Us The choice made is understandable given that broader titles attract eyes so not so much a criticism as an observation And given that most of contemporary economics is held together by the principles of neoliberal ideas anyway the 21st century reader won't be left wanting for muchAldred spends the vast majority exploring the source of such economics by scrutinizing 20th century Chicago School economics that gave us the likes of Hayek Friedman whose ideas were then adopted by Reagan Thatcher in the US UK respectively Thanks to globalization and the disproportionate influence of these two in international trading and well in the case of the US it's often literal military intervention and sponsored coups the religion of free market and its crusade against the Keynesian welfare state model spread far beyond their shores and we're left with what we have today CoolThe book is divided into 10 chapters 8 of which are dedicated to dissecting what would be fair to presume Aldred considers to be the most influential theories and ideas in shaping present day monetary relations and — here's the corruption he talks about — how people view their social relations He provides ample evidence to suggest that economic postulates have bled into our individual conceptions of right and wrong leading to a society which now has systems in place to sell citizenships to the highest bidder has created a market where countries may purchase licences to pollute and where anti discrimination laws are constantly being chipped away under the free market penalizes discrimination rhetoric You know ideas that seem ridiculous if thought about from any angle other than the one that presents profit as the highest social goodOn the other hand when he's not pointing out the absurdities of our economically derived beliefs Aldred is pointing to the pitfalls of the abstract theories within the discipline itself Famously economists have come up with some truly absurd ideas by using homo economicus in their models Homo Economicus being a rational narrowly self interested portrayal of an individual in society who is supposed to be a stand in for homo sapiens who surprise surprise are neither rational nor entirely self interested I feel compelled to place doubt upon the word rational as it is used here since what is considered rational behaviour by economists is prescriptive rather than descriptive It conjures up a figure that considers mathematical probabilities before making decisions something that worldly economists have proved does not match with the lived realities of homo sapiens In fact as Aldred readily points out when these mathematically minded rational economists are themselves part of experiments that test their theories they actively choose to not employ what they purport to be rational behaviour in their academic work This happens even when they're granted a second chance and allowed to change their minds about their irrational choices — they overwhelmingly stick with their original decisions Speaking of mathematics Aldred seems to suggest that apart from the ideological push from Chicago economists the new face of economics has a lot to do with the so called physics envy — economists' drive to angle their studies closer to the pure sciences rather than the social sciences Mathematical rigour takes precedence over ethics morality philosophy etc devolving to the point of a tendency to place numbers in monetary terms upon matters that have no precedents in the real world There have been serious suggestions from Noble prize winning economists for selling babies in the free market That should say a lot This undermining of the social sciences also shows in the citations of research in the economic discipline as economists are the least likely to cite research from other disciplines and are also uniuely the only group that when uestioned alongside historians sociologists political scientists psychologists and business school professors disagreed that inter disciplinary knowledge is better than knowledge from a single discipline Much of this can be chalked up to again the aforementioned physics envy since economists conceive their observational position to be the same as that of a physicist Some lordly scientist who observes the universe with a rational eye and draws models around it What they're missing is the acknowledgement that unlike the particles in physics when you observe an economy made up of human beings and create models that will be turned into legislation and corporate practice your sentient subjects aware of being observed will change their behaviour to adapt to the new environment they've been trapped inPut plainly being a social scientist comes with its caveats and until economists accept it and change their methods accordingly we'll continue to speed through with theories that do not do a satisfactory job at capturing the complexities of human societyThe book closes with some suggestions on how the field can transform itself one most importantly being the use of actual field work that focuses on solving 'the real problems of real people' rather than crunching abstract numbers for theoretical developments within the field What I find personally interesting is what changes such critiue Aldred is definitely not alone in this fight can bring to the field In an age where there's increased awareness anxiety appropriately about the incoming climate catastrophe and the inability — if not exacerbation — of market based solutions to tackle them would economists continue to be bull headed about the lens they view the world with? Or could they in the face of possible extinction expand their view and think of something beyond the same old financial incentives?

  6. Donn Lee Donn Lee says:

    I gave up on this book a couple of times Shelved under DNF did not finish But my mind would keep going back to it thinking about the things it brought up and I couldn't help but want to read So I'd fish it back from my DNF bin and push on I was rewarded with a better understanding of what the author was getting at and a new way of looking at the worldSo let me first talk a little about the reason why I thought this belonged to the DNF bin I felt that the author wasn't particularly clear on what he was trying to get at It felt like a general attack on loosely related ideas that he lumped together as economic thought from a hodgepodge of people whom I had not myself considered economists It felt a little like the author assembled all these people and ideas to have an antagonist against which he could attack and that he was hugely overstating the amount of influence any one of these individuals could have had By the end of the book I don't think he really changed my impression of the earlier chaptersStill it couldn't have been that terrible because I found myself constantly going back to the book and wondering what else he had to say I found the later chapters really good especially Chapter 7 which I highlighted like crazy Here's a gem early in the chapter when talking about how economic thinking has led to using pricing as policySince I can be predictably manipulated by incentives it cannot be said that my decisions depend only 'on myself not on external factors' Nor am I 'self directed' Incentive schemes then might work just as intended by their designers with no crowding out but still be morally wrong because they conflict with our values of liberty and autonomy When a judge is offered and accepts a financial incentive to let a guilty person go free this is bribery and is obviously harmful That both the briber and the judge might be better off is irrelevantOverall a poor book at the start but one that ends strongly with plenty of mind changing material

  7. Like_magic Like_magic says:

    Book was just hard for me to follow There was no roadmap to follow and it was not clear where the author was trying to take me nor what he was trying to convey I may have been able to understand individual examples but I continually failed to place them into the larger context In addition to that there seems to be an overly large in my opinion emphasis on the role that individual economic theorists have played in the development of the economy as it stands today I was not able to understand enough to determine whether the author was retroactively assigning the blame for economic events that are happening in the present to economists that have created theorems in the past I personally fail to see how there is any correlation as our actions remain our own and the text unfortunately does not seem to shed any light on the matter

  8. Annette Annette says:

    Overly simplistic explanation of economic theories that assumes all economists are the same despite the differences among economists that he himself outlines in the book He sets up a straw man designed to be torn down Economics is complex because it is about people and the tools of economics are designed to allow for scenario building and thinking through scenarios Hence the joke that economists always say ‘on the one hand and on the other hand’

  9. Katri Katri says:

    This is an interesting and educating read but pretty hard to grasp if you are not already familiar with the mentioned theories This book is so packed with information that it's hard to read at one go so you will have to put this down and digest what you have read The ending seems somewhat abrupt and Aldred doesn't bring up any research to back up his claims so it falls a bit flat especially after such a great beginning

  10. Ron Pri Ron Pri says:

    Economics is the perfect case of obsession with uantification gone wrong The effort to formalize the socio economic complexity of world into physics like simple laws had led many a disciplines astray but so with economics mainstreamThe most sinister aspect is the rationale the economists give when their ideas are challenged even though the snake oil they peddle has life and death conseuences especially for people on the other side of the planet

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