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Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street

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Tomas Sedlacek has shaken the study of economics as few ever have. Named one of the "Young Guns" and one of the "five hot minds in economics" by the Yale Economic Review, he serves on the National Economic Council in Prague, where his provocative writing has achieved bestseller status. How has he done it? By arguing a simple, almost heretical proposition: economics is ulti Tomas Sedlacek has shaken the study of economics as few ever have. Named one of the "Young Guns" and one of the "five hot minds in economics" by the Yale Economic Review, he serves on the National Economic Council in Prague, where his provocative writing has achieved bestseller status. How has he done it? By arguing a simple, almost heretical proposition: economics is ultimately about good and evil. In The Economics of Good and Evil, Sedlacek radically rethinks his field, challenging our assumptions about the world. Economics is touted as a science, a value-free mathematical inquiry, he writes, but it's actually a cultural phenomenon, a product of our civilization. It began within philosophy--Adam Smith himself not only wrote The Wealth of Nations, but also The Theory of Moral Sentiments--and economics, as Sedlacek shows, is woven out of history, myth, religion, and ethics. "Even the most sophisticated mathematical model," Sedlacek writes, "is, de facto, a story, a parable, our effort to (rationally) grasp the world around us." Economics not only describes the world, but establishes normative standards, identifying ideal conditions. Science, he claims, is a system of beliefs to which we are committed. To grasp the beliefs underlying economics, he breaks out of the field's confines with a tour de force exploration of economic thinking, broadly defined, over the millennia. He ranges from the epic of Gilgamesh and the Old Testament to the emergence of Christianity, from Descartes and Adam Smith to the consumerism in Fight Club. Throughout, he asks searching meta-economic questions: What is the meaning and the point of economics? Can we do ethically all that we can do technically? Does it pay to be good? Placing the wisdom of philosophers and poets over strict mathematical models of human behavior, Sedlacek's groundbreaking work promises to change the way we calculate economic value.


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Tomas Sedlacek has shaken the study of economics as few ever have. Named one of the "Young Guns" and one of the "five hot minds in economics" by the Yale Economic Review, he serves on the National Economic Council in Prague, where his provocative writing has achieved bestseller status. How has he done it? By arguing a simple, almost heretical proposition: economics is ulti Tomas Sedlacek has shaken the study of economics as few ever have. Named one of the "Young Guns" and one of the "five hot minds in economics" by the Yale Economic Review, he serves on the National Economic Council in Prague, where his provocative writing has achieved bestseller status. How has he done it? By arguing a simple, almost heretical proposition: economics is ultimately about good and evil. In The Economics of Good and Evil, Sedlacek radically rethinks his field, challenging our assumptions about the world. Economics is touted as a science, a value-free mathematical inquiry, he writes, but it's actually a cultural phenomenon, a product of our civilization. It began within philosophy--Adam Smith himself not only wrote The Wealth of Nations, but also The Theory of Moral Sentiments--and economics, as Sedlacek shows, is woven out of history, myth, religion, and ethics. "Even the most sophisticated mathematical model," Sedlacek writes, "is, de facto, a story, a parable, our effort to (rationally) grasp the world around us." Economics not only describes the world, but establishes normative standards, identifying ideal conditions. Science, he claims, is a system of beliefs to which we are committed. To grasp the beliefs underlying economics, he breaks out of the field's confines with a tour de force exploration of economic thinking, broadly defined, over the millennia. He ranges from the epic of Gilgamesh and the Old Testament to the emergence of Christianity, from Descartes and Adam Smith to the consumerism in Fight Club. Throughout, he asks searching meta-economic questions: What is the meaning and the point of economics? Can we do ethically all that we can do technically? Does it pay to be good? Placing the wisdom of philosophers and poets over strict mathematical models of human behavior, Sedlacek's groundbreaking work promises to change the way we calculate economic value.

30 review for Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mario the lone bookwolf

    ENGLISH A painstakingly researched new approach to assessing and shaping economic policy with visionary ideas and an extreme end. It should be noted in advance that, in contrast to some popular science books that are designed with a focus on easier accessibility, the book has some dry text passages. Including what stands between the histories and religious narratives, namely the interpretations and explanations. The first two-thirds of the book are primarily modeled after the citation of a histor ENGLISH A painstakingly researched new approach to assessing and shaping economic policy with visionary ideas and an extreme end. It should be noted in advance that, in contrast to some popular science books that are designed with a focus on easier accessibility, the book has some dry text passages. Including what stands between the histories and religious narratives, namely the interpretations and explanations. The first two-thirds of the book are primarily modeled after the citation of a historical, philosophical, or religious source that taps, interprets, explains, and sometimes examines its economic relevance and conclusiveness for its potential significance and applicability in the contemporary world. Whereby ideas such as complete debt relief, the one-time harvesting of crops to enable poor and disadvantaged people to get food, regular and rigorous debt cuts, control of the financial system and the general call for more ethics in economic terms are the positive aspects of the historiography and various religious writings. Sometimes the interpretation of economically important matters is a bit far-fetched. It is a good idea to search for sections that have the purpose of conveying sustainable and fair business in holy books like the Bible, Qur'an, Torah and related writings. Occasionally, an old knowledge that has been forgotten and thus, not lost in the blink of an eye, can bring about a tremendous renaissance. It amazes and amuses, as the author tries, with interesting interpretive tactics in, among other things, to occasionally discover macroeconomic clues in millennia-old Egyptian writings. The explanatory passages about different distinctions, developments and concepts of economic life can be liked and read accurately, but one does not have to. Especially because it is subtly tricky to grasp the context without rudimentary basic knowledge in the respective discipline, without investing one or two extra moments in time for the second read-through devoted to consolidating the content. The closer the book comes to the present and the end of the story the more exciting the narrative flows some eye-openers wait for the reader and incorporate more of the author's ideas. He deserves respect for criticizing an economy whose flagbearer he is in all areas of activity. The grandeur of self-criticism and self-reflection is something seldom found in economics. What will grow out of the "homo oeconomicus" will to be seen in the future, but it is meaningful that a competent thinker like Sedláček tends to a slightly adverse future prognosis. The lack of a solution cannot be simply criticized. If the author would know what to do, he would probably be the only one or part of a handful of chosen people worldwide who could dare to openly speak about it. Moreover, it would be dangerously unselfish of him to speak openly of this holy grail of money circulation, without involving self-interest as a substantially constant. After all, it is still about economic proportionality. A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this, yuck, ugh, boo, completely overrated real-life outside books: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-sc... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-ca... GERMAN Ein penibel recherchierter Neuansatz zur Beurteilung und Gestaltung der Wirtschaftspolitik mit visionären Ideen und sehr starkem Ende. Vorab sei angemerkt, dass im Gegensatz zu manch eher populärwissenschaftlich und damit auf leichtere Zugänglichkeit ausgelegtem Werk, der Autor über einige trockene Textpassagen nicht hinwegtäuschen kann. Was zwischen den Geschichts- und Religionserzählungen steht, nämlich die famosen Interpretationen, Erklärungen und Auslegungen, lohnt die Durststrecken aber allemal. Die ersten 2 Drittel des Buches sind größtenteils nach dem Schema aufgebaut, dass nach dem Zitieren einer historischen, philosophischen oder religiösen Quelle diese auf ihre ökonomische Relevanz und Schlüssigkeit abgeklopft, gedeutet, erläutert und mitunter auf die potentielle Bedeutsamkeit und Anwendbarkeit in der heutigen Welt untersucht wird. Wobei Ideen wie Schuldenerlass, das einmalige Ernten von Feldern, um armen und benachteiligten Menschen zu ermöglichen, an Nahrung zu kommen, regelmäßige und rigorose Schuldenschnitte, Kontrolle des Geldwesens und der generelle Aufruf zu mehr Ethik im finanziellen Gebaren zu den positiven Aspekten der Geschichtsschreibung beziehungsweise diversen Religionsschriften zählen. Mitunter ist die Auslegung auf unbedingt wirtschaftliche Belange etwas weit hergeholt. Das ist der guten Grundidee, in Geschichtsbüchern, Bibel, Koran, Thora und artverwandten Schriften nach Abschnitten zu suchen, die den Zweck haben, nachhaltiges und gerechtes Wirtschaften zu vermitteln, aber nicht abträglich. Mitunter kann altes, in Vergessenheit und damit haarscharf nicht verlorengegangenes Wissen in seiner Renaissance Enormes bewirken. Es erstaunt und amüsiert, wie es der Autor versteht mit unterhaltsamen Auslegungstaktiken in, unter anderem, Jahrtausende ealten ägyptischen Schriften mitunter makroökonomische Hinweise zu entdecken. Die erklärenden Passagen über verschiedene Unterscheidungen, Entwicklungen und Begriffe des Wirtschaftslebens kann man mögen und genau lesen, muss man aber nicht. Vor allem weil es ohne rudimentäre Grundkenntnisse in der jeweiligen Disziplin dann doch dezent knifflig ist den Kontext immer zu erfassen, ohne das eine oder andere Quäntchen Zeit zum zweiten, der Festigung des Inhalts gewidmeten, Durchlesens zu investieren. Je näher das Buch dem eigenen und dem Ende der Geschichte in Form von Gegenwart kommt, desto mitreißender wird der Erzählfluss, da einige Augenöffner auf den geneigten Leser warten und mehr eigene Ideen des Autors mit einfließen, der bisher primär aus vorgegebenen Quellen schöpfte und im letzten Gang sogar gegen seine eigene Disziplin zu Felde zieht. Es gebührt ihm dafür Respekt, Kritik an einer Wirtschaft, deren Fahnenträger er Kraft all seiner Tätigkeitsfelder selbst ist, zu üben. Was aus dem „homo oeconomicus“ werden wird, bleibt abzuwarten und es stimmt doch nachdenklich, dass ein kompetenter Denker wie Sedláček zu einer eher negativen Zukunftsprognose tendiert. Das Fehlen eines Lösungsansatzes kann insofern nicht angekreidet werden, als dass der Autor, wäre er im Besitz eines solchen, vermutlich der einzige oder Teil einer Handvoll Auserwählter weltweit wäre, die dessen mental habhaft werden könnten. Und insofern sich selbst gegenüber fahrlässig selbstlos wären, diesen heiligen Gral der Geldzirkulation offen heraus zu posaunen, ohne Eigennutz als wichtige Konstante mit einzubeziehen. Es geht schließlich immer noch um ökonomische Verhältnismäßigkeit.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Though I didn't agree with all of his conclusions, Sedlacek's book left me with many things to consider. I do think he's correct in his main argument, that the study of economics has become too focused on econometrics to its detriment. A return to a more philosophical, ethical approach might be of use. And I also found his comments on consumer culture to be profound. Can we reach a 'bliss point' by buying things or raising our income? Or can myths and other old views of economics have something Though I didn't agree with all of his conclusions, Sedlacek's book left me with many things to consider. I do think he's correct in his main argument, that the study of economics has become too focused on econometrics to its detriment. A return to a more philosophical, ethical approach might be of use. And I also found his comments on consumer culture to be profound. Can we reach a 'bliss point' by buying things or raising our income? Or can myths and other old views of economics have something to tell us in this day and age. I have to say, I'm inclined to like any author who can mash up Gilgamesh and Enkidu, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Fight Club, the Bible, Adam Smith, and a host of other sources. Especially if that author is willing to admit that the spiritual life might hold some answers for today's world.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Adam Shields

    Short review: This is one of the best economic books I have read. It is a wide ranging book about the purpose and history of economics. The first half is about how economics have been understood by looking at ancient historical documents (Epic of Gilgamesh, Old Testament, New Testament, various Greek philosophers). Then it moves to how early economics viewed economics. The last section is about the limits of economics and a call for economics to move away from mathematics determinism and to a re Short review: This is one of the best economic books I have read. It is a wide ranging book about the purpose and history of economics. The first half is about how economics have been understood by looking at ancient historical documents (Epic of Gilgamesh, Old Testament, New Testament, various Greek philosophers). Then it moves to how early economics viewed economics. The last section is about the limits of economics and a call for economics to move away from mathematics determinism and to a renewed interest in ethics. It is not rejecting the mathematical focus of economics but rather calling for a new humility because humans are not rational robots and economists are not very good prophets. My full review is at http://bookwi.se/economics-good-evil-... ______ I was provided a copy for review from the Amazon Vine program.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Eva

    If you want a short textbook on philosophy, this is for you. Don’t expect much economics though. One of very few things I’ve learnt from this book is that the author is well-read. Unfortunately that doesn’t make it readable. The quotations that amaze you at first begin to feel annoying as you progress and make you think ok, we have heard this a thousand times, do you have an idea of your own? He has indeed, in the end, but nothing more than sheer common sense. Spoiler: overconsumption is bad. In If you want a short textbook on philosophy, this is for you. Don’t expect much economics though. One of very few things I’ve learnt from this book is that the author is well-read. Unfortunately that doesn’t make it readable. The quotations that amaze you at first begin to feel annoying as you progress and make you think ok, we have heard this a thousand times, do you have an idea of your own? He has indeed, in the end, but nothing more than sheer common sense. Spoiler: overconsumption is bad. In a word, I felt betrayed.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tomáš Daněk

    1) Economy is not a real (exact) science. 2) Money is not everything. Wow, big deal. Save yourself time and money and read Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Suhrob

    I heard Sedlacek had problems to submit his PhD thesis which he then published (reworked) in a book form. I initially thought this is just another example how wretched current economics is, but in fact I tend to agree now - at best this belongs to the literature department. The book is roughly split into 2 parts. The first part is a tour of western literary cannon (well small part of it - Gilgamesh, Bible, bit of jewish tradition, scholastics...) ending with Adam Smith. Sedlacek provides literary I heard Sedlacek had problems to submit his PhD thesis which he then published (reworked) in a book form. I initially thought this is just another example how wretched current economics is, but in fact I tend to agree now - at best this belongs to the literature department. The book is roughly split into 2 parts. The first part is a tour of western literary cannon (well small part of it - Gilgamesh, Bible, bit of jewish tradition, scholastics...) ending with Adam Smith. Sedlacek provides literary-theoretic interpretations of these works through the lens of economics. The problem of this part is that it so overstuffed with quotes from primary and secondary sources that it is hard to find original sentences in it. In fact it is likely that this part doesn't offer any original contribution whatsoever. Apart from that it is a decent, if a bit boring overview of economical thinking in the roots of judeo-christian culture. The second part (after a few foreshadows in the first part) then launches into straight up critique of economics, particularly its mathematization and the homo economicus model. While there is indeed a lot to criticize here I have to say only thing worse than most of contemporary economics are shallow critics of it... Sedlacek reveals very shallow understanding of many concepts (utilitarian ethics, game theory, Goedel incompletness all get butchered) often fights strawmen or in trying to be provocative and smart comes off rather as annoying and thick. His pointing out the foundational problem in the definition of utility is pure "emperor-has-no-clothes"-smart-assery one has to just roll his eyes (while being called an apologist for the economics establishment). As a book ultimately about epistemology it has too little Popper for example and too much Matrix quotes... His critique never raises above triteness like: "If we are to call truly scientific only things translatable into mathematics, things like emotions and the soul (and love) fall into something of a lower ontological category." Not only is his critique weakly informed, the "solutions" he offers sound also trite, impractical and full of armchair philosopher self-righteousness. Oh well... nothing to see here, move along. Little knowledge is more dangerous then no knowledge, but the only damage this could do is fueling pseudo-intellectual cocktail discussions - for which it is probably too long and too boring. I feel bad about being this negative... also I really regret finishing this book.. a clear sunk cost problem I have...

  7. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    Definitely an erudite book on many levels... but sort of boring in other ways. It would be perfect as a series of talks belonging to some "humanities festival" for a liberal arts college, or an undergraduate course that is aimed at giving students a chance to do close reading of major western texts focused on a single theme (economics). Which is another way of saying that I think plenty of people will enjoy this book, but it wasn't really what I was hoping for; I ended up mostly skimming it. I do Definitely an erudite book on many levels... but sort of boring in other ways. It would be perfect as a series of talks belonging to some "humanities festival" for a liberal arts college, or an undergraduate course that is aimed at giving students a chance to do close reading of major western texts focused on a single theme (economics). Which is another way of saying that I think plenty of people will enjoy this book, but it wasn't really what I was hoping for; I ended up mostly skimming it. I do think, though, that histories of economic thought in this vein are important, especially in their ability to denaturalize the current economic discourse. And Sedlacek's particular point that mathematics is a language that has allowed us insight into some aspects of economics, but is not the only language in which economics has or can be conducted, and in fact causes us to ignore many of those aspects of economic thought that were deemed important for thousands of years, is interesting and worth engaging.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sebastian

    Although the title contains the word economics, the book is more a concentrated history of philosophy, human culture, and civilisation. As the reader learns at the end of this book, Sedlacek's treatise is meant as a plea for refocusing on normative economics than the mathematics dominated positive economics of today. Despite that the text often lacks drawing conclusions and does not explain how the risen questions and topics apply to economics. Readers should have basic knowledge in macro economic Although the title contains the word economics, the book is more a concentrated history of philosophy, human culture, and civilisation. As the reader learns at the end of this book, Sedlacek's treatise is meant as a plea for refocusing on normative economics than the mathematics dominated positive economics of today. Despite that the text often lacks drawing conclusions and does not explain how the risen questions and topics apply to economics. Readers should have basic knowledge in macro economics, philosophy, and religion to have a better access to this book. Thus it will be very challenging to think about the question why an omniscient God had not known that Adam and Eve would eat the apple from the Tree of Knowledge and compare this event to Prometheus bringing the fire to men. Furthermore one can think about today's ideas of going back to nature and living on subsistence means in the understanding of the Gilgamesh epos becoming uncivilised and animalistic, a retrogression to the natural state. Sedlacek even adapts pop culture and shows a preference for the Matrix Trilogy. But why does he not refer to Gordon Gekko's quotation "Greed is good." in the film "Wall Street I"? It would be a great visualisation of the chapter on Bernard Mandeville.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mike Peleah

    The guy drives me crazy trying to persuade that gender equality is much higher at distant districts of that (quite patriarchal) country, than in capital. The best argument he uses “econometrics shows this, and you know, math doesn’t lie”. When we run down devils in details, it turned out that the guy used share if girls among higher education students as a metrics of gender equality. In distant districts higher education facilities are limited to medical and pedagogical ones, overpopulated by gi The guy drives me crazy trying to persuade that gender equality is much higher at distant districts of that (quite patriarchal) country, than in capital. The best argument he uses “econometrics shows this, and you know, math doesn’t lie”. When we run down devils in details, it turned out that the guy used share if girls among higher education students as a metrics of gender equality. In distant districts higher education facilities are limited to medical and pedagogical ones, overpopulated by girls. Contrary, in the capital there is much broader set of education institutions, including technical ones preferred by boys, and share of girls is naturally lower. Wrong implicit assumptions lead to wrong results, despite of all that ubersophisticated math. Tomáš Sedláček tells that story, but on a bigger scale. Currently, we hide implicit assumptions behind sophisticated formulas of economics (which more and more is limited to econometrics). Math replaced ethics in economic debates, based on assumption that math is value-neutral. However, this is very recent development. Over centuries economic though was inseparable from ethics, moral philosophy. In this book author walk through the long history, analyzing sources as old as Gilgamesh and the Old Testament, coming to the Greek philosophers, continuing to Christian economics, and then to Enlightenment ages, and finally the Wall Street. The book is well written and easy to read. While I don’t agree with several arguments, it is thought provoking and very useful. To my surprise, there is not much Wall Street in the book, while Crash 2008 could be a very good case study. Intricate econometrics and math models simply hide the basic assumption that property prices will rise forever. As soon as this assumption turned out be false, and prices stagnated and slightly went down, all models went crazy and market crashed. On the other hand, author pay some attention to Debt, which is a great issue going well beyond Public Debt. Overall—nicely written, thought provoking, well referenced book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Seth

    This is a difficult book to classify, and thus to review. It's not a book of economics, but rather about economics, particularly the modern focus on mathematics to the exclusion of ethics. It's pretty abstract and philosophical. I almost gave up a number of times in the first 150 pages, as I slogged through Sedlacek picking out and commenting on the economic bread crumbs found in the most ancient of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh, followed by Greek thought, Stoicism, historic Christianity, an This is a difficult book to classify, and thus to review. It's not a book of economics, but rather about economics, particularly the modern focus on mathematics to the exclusion of ethics. It's pretty abstract and philosophical. I almost gave up a number of times in the first 150 pages, as I slogged through Sedlacek picking out and commenting on the economic bread crumbs found in the most ancient of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh, followed by Greek thought, Stoicism, historic Christianity, and the Enlightenment thought of Hume, Descartes, and Adam Smith. One of most interesting chapters was on Adam Smith: for example, the views he is famous for advocating (the "invisible hand," among other things) are not actually his own, and his economic ethics are more complex than commonly understood. The other fascinating section was his short discussion on how the contemporary Keynesian approach to the business cycle is anything by Keynesian--what he dubs "Bastardized Keynesianism"--i.e. that deficits are okay in time of decline as long as they are paid back out of surpluses. Obviously, that second half of the equation has been totally ignored by modern national economies, as we in the West continue to spend ourselves into oblivion. Sedlacek calls out modern economists for their arrogance in attempting to explain virtually everything using exclusively mathematical economic models, arguing that they have become just as dogmatic and unscientific as many religious people (supposedly) are. He calls for more ethics and more epistemological humility in his field, and what a welcome call it is. This book is a slow burn, and not too terribly exciting, but ultimately intellectually stimulating and satisfying.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    A very intellectual and informative Book, but his style of writing is pleasant . Sedlacek manages to explain difficult topics in comprehensive manner, so that everyone could understand it even, if one doesn't know much about economy. I particularly liked the fact that he criticized the domination of mathematics in the economy and regret the lack and disregard of other subjects like philosophy, history, ethnology, etc. He suggest to change some of our habits (egoism, to achieve fame and profit, t A very intellectual and informative Book, but his style of writing is pleasant . Sedlacek manages to explain difficult topics in comprehensive manner, so that everyone could understand it even, if one doesn't know much about economy. I particularly liked the fact that he criticized the domination of mathematics in the economy and regret the lack and disregard of other subjects like philosophy, history, ethnology, etc. He suggest to change some of our habits (egoism, to achieve fame and profit, to rethink our understanding of economy so that we can be open for some alternatives to our consumer society and its harmful sides. I learned many things by reading this book. Especially philosophical and historical facts about the relationship of Christianity with economy and the viewpoint of some personalities. I strongly recommend this book, u will like it, believe me :) Peter

  12. 4 out of 5

    Birdbath Birdbath

    I found this book googling "economics of good" so I was primed to enjoy it and was in the mood. It delivered. The author meandered a bit but in the end I was left full and satisfied. Do read it. I found it free online.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lars Sanders

    everyone whit an opinion about the current economic crisis should study this and think again

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vladimir Baydin

    You will find this book controversial at the very least. Sometimes, it’s illogical, repetitive, and purely structured. Still, I highly recommend to read this book for its anti-mainstream spirit. The author has brought brilliant questions everyone should ask him/herself once in a while.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ffion Wyn

    I will confess that i didn't really read this from cover to cover but I enjoyed dipping in and out Capitalism is messed up man....

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mishco

    Very good overview of economic history and history itself. This book bringing more questions and also giving ways where can be founded answers

  17. 4 out of 5

    David Shelton

    This was a pretty good book but it didn't quite get to the level I was hoping. The main premise is that the field of economics has become too dependent on math and data and has become disconnected from other fields such as moral philosophy and theology. In other words, it's become to disconnected from real life. The author spends the first half of the book showing how people in the past saw economics through these very different lenses. The author then uses these sources to show how modern day e This was a pretty good book but it didn't quite get to the level I was hoping. The main premise is that the field of economics has become too dependent on math and data and has become disconnected from other fields such as moral philosophy and theology. In other words, it's become to disconnected from real life. The author spends the first half of the book showing how people in the past saw economics through these very different lenses. The author then uses these sources to show how modern day economics can fail when it becomes overly rational or empirical. Rationalism fails because there is no true starting point. No one is perfectly objective and at some points everyone must fall back on unproven assumptions, i.e. faith. Empiricism is also inadequate because data always requires interpretation. It is very easy for one economist to look at data and draw a completely different conclusion than the person before him. We have all seen how statistics can be manipulated to say whatever one wants, as well has random correlations that may or may not be causation. As the author repeatedly states, he does not want to stop using math and data, but simply wants to recognize other fields that can also help us to better understand economics. It is the people who think that math is the only way to do economics, and that everyone can be boiled down to data that he wants to critique. One of the main problems I have with the book is that he never or rarely names the people he is arguing against. He is constantly talking about the failures of modern day economists, but rarely gives specific examples. If he had been able to show some of the failures that happened because of over reliance on statistics and how moral philosophy would have improved understanding, the book would have been much more powerful. Finally, in his discussions and mentions of Christianity I felt he made some inaccurate interpretations that felt sloppily researched and explained. He often quotes Augustine and Aquinas as representatives of Christianity, which I have no problem with. But later in the book he makes an argument based on an Open Theistic interpretation and doesn't seem to recognize that it's a blatant contradiction of the Christianity of Augustine and Aquinas. Overall I enjoyed the book and learned a lot from it. I thought it showed an impressive breadth of knowledge to be so well versed in many literary works while at the same time having a strong grasp on the field of economics. I tend to agree with his main arguments though I believe they could have been made more effectively. For all of these reasons I give the book 4 stars.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ashkhan

    Economics of Good and Evil is certainly different. Despite its title, one won't find any fomulas, models, graphs or statistics inside of its covers. It discusses current (messy) state of the world economy but it doesn't offer any solutions. No easy steps to follow to become super-successful or 5 worst actions to avoid in your life if you want to become healthy and happy. The first part argues that economics is more than just mathematics. It evolved from philosophy, ethics and other "soft" discipl Economics of Good and Evil is certainly different. Despite its title, one won't find any fomulas, models, graphs or statistics inside of its covers. It discusses current (messy) state of the world economy but it doesn't offer any solutions. No easy steps to follow to become super-successful or 5 worst actions to avoid in your life if you want to become healthy and happy. The first part argues that economics is more than just mathematics. It evolved from philosophy, ethics and other "soft" disciplines. It has many ties and relationships to these, which are nearly forgotten nowadays. You will encounter a rather long-winded introduction/narration/explanation/discourse into history of humankind covering valuable religious and philosophical texts. I have to admit that I have never read the Old/New Testament, Talmud or other religious texts and I found the citations and Sedlacek's comments interesting. On the other hand, I agree with other reviewers that it can be a little boring to read through. Especially, if you tend to think upon what you read, in that case this book will take a long time to cover. Having the ancient background explained, Sedlacek moves on to more contemporary thinkers/philosophers/ecnomists iike Rene Descartes, Adam Smith, David Hume. Mandeville, etc. Great deal is dedicated to the motivation of people and their inherent behaviour. Are we good or evil? Does it even matter? It seems like the invisible hand can fix it all. Can it? Finally, there is a cry for more intuitve/simpler approach to current worldwide economic problems. Economists are not prophets, the models work within narrow set of assumptions, the debts aren't sustainable and all of this can lead to a very bleak future unless we start to act NOW. The book is not perfect, what is... But the essence that there is something rather rotten in the society and everything and everybody trying to persuade us to spend now and here and to borrow some from our future is rather disturbing.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Samiur

    I bought this book when I visited Austria earlier last year, and enjoyed the read during the holidays. It's a relatively light, philosophical, and easy read (with a good intro by Vaclav), which hence makes it a good holiday read. Borderline erudite. Basically, Sedlacek makes the case for the role of philosophy, religion, history, and ethics, and also explores the intersections of these tenets in creating/establishing stories and the role of stories behind Economics, theories, and decision making. I bought this book when I visited Austria earlier last year, and enjoyed the read during the holidays. It's a relatively light, philosophical, and easy read (with a good intro by Vaclav), which hence makes it a good holiday read. Borderline erudite. Basically, Sedlacek makes the case for the role of philosophy, religion, history, and ethics, and also explores the intersections of these tenets in creating/establishing stories and the role of stories behind Economics, theories, and decision making. He makes the case for re-establishing and focusing on normative economics, as opposed to relying solely and strictly on mathematical models. To demonstrate his viewpoints, he touches on a range of persons or topics (history to present popular) ranging from Adam Smith, Gilgamesh, and the Old Testament to The Matrix and Fight Club. Sedlacek provides good reason to highlight Economics is not a pure/exact science, but then even academicians, experts, thought-leaders, professionals, social scientists, policy makers, and alike recognize this. This isn't a substantive nor genuinely, new conclusion. Sure, writers/folks don't always analyze economic meaning based on history and hollywood at the same time. If I had more time on my hands to spare in Austria, and more cups of Caramel Machiatto from Starbucks, I would have perhaps tried to spend more time on reading philosophy (in the following order: Descartes, Locke, Voltaire, Plato, Socrates and Avicenna) and analyzing how different schools of philosophy, over time, contributed to (and transformed) economic theories.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Naomi

    I found this the most interesting book I've read for a long time. Another reviewer called it boring - I suppose it depends on your interests but I didn't find it boring, I couldn't put it down. First of all, let me admit that I have little to no knowledge of economic theory, historical or otherwise. I knew a brief bit about Adam Smith but that was my limit. I don't really feel able to critique the economic content other than to say that I agreed with his observations on GDP and growth capitalism I found this the most interesting book I've read for a long time. Another reviewer called it boring - I suppose it depends on your interests but I didn't find it boring, I couldn't put it down. First of all, let me admit that I have little to no knowledge of economic theory, historical or otherwise. I knew a brief bit about Adam Smith but that was my limit. I don't really feel able to critique the economic content other than to say that I agreed with his observations on GDP and growth capitalism. However as a layperson the arguments were easy to follow and I finished the book feeling a lot more informed on economics. As a book of meta-economics though, the content was fascinating and covered philosophy, scientism, the nature of truth, empiricism vs rationalism, the nature of vice, what fuels self interest, and more. There were a number of crisp, clear observations that wouldn't be out of place in a book on philosophy or ethics. I get a bit tired of the prevailing modern view on progress, that earlier civilisations were primitive scratchers at our gleaming truths, but this book was very refreshing and could do with a wider audience in certain circles. The writing style is elegant and sharp. My copy had a few typos towards the end but these were minor irritations only. Definitely recommend, I haven't stopped thinking about it for weeks.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Filip Růžička

    Disilusioned by secondary school classes on economy and seeing the actual term thrown around into vastly different contexts by vastly different people, seemingly threading through all aspects of our civilization kind of like a religion, kind of like a superset of expert knowledge and kind of like a natural force, my longing for a high-level introduction to economic principles and their contextualization grew ever stronger, which led me to this book. The feelings which remain with me after finishi Disilusioned by secondary school classes on economy and seeing the actual term thrown around into vastly different contexts by vastly different people, seemingly threading through all aspects of our civilization kind of like a religion, kind of like a superset of expert knowledge and kind of like a natural force, my longing for a high-level introduction to economic principles and their contextualization grew ever stronger, which led me to this book. The feelings which remain with me after finishing it are two-fold. It does provide a very thoughtful insight into the underlying human urges driving our economic behavior and their interpretation throughout history and schools of thought using popular examples from some of the most notable literature on the topic. However, unlike, presumably, university textbooks on economy, it provides almost no concrete answers or formulas to base your economic thinking on. In fact, it left me with even more questions than I had before. You should pick this book up if you wish to look beyond the demand curve and learn about the intangible notions people probably have in mind when they talk about economy as something supernatural. If you want to take a step back from being told about the ideal of steady, quantifiable and predictable economic growth. If you want to take a deep breath, zoom out and try to see economy as something inherently human.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Simon Omnibus

    What is capitalism? Pure magic. The social order where all individuals and organisations do completely selfish things (seek profits) but without their intention that turns into social benefits (GDP). What supernatural force can provide this unbelievable transformation? The invisible hand of market. Who said that? Adam Smith, of course. (If you ever visited a course in economics you have heard this "truth" at least 10 times. If you went through whole university process multiply the figure by hundred What is capitalism? Pure magic. The social order where all individuals and organisations do completely selfish things (seek profits) but without their intention that turns into social benefits (GDP). What supernatural force can provide this unbelievable transformation? The invisible hand of market. Who said that? Adam Smith, of course. (If you ever visited a course in economics you have heard this "truth" at least 10 times. If you went through whole university process multiply the figure by hundreds). But ... here's the catch. Adam Smith mentioned the invisible hand only three times and not in the above context at all. Ok, good, does anyone care? Certainly not the mainstream professors (prophets?) who never read the originals. So here came Tomaš Sedlaček who did read the originals and exposed the swindlers. And also finally reconnected ancient myths with economy to show us how most of the modern economics is bunch of illusions that present themselves as objective truths. So far the only economic text where The Matrix, The Bible and the principles of economics walk hand in hand. Bravo, Tomaš.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alexandru

    A fascinating book that you need a bit of knowledge in philosophy, psychology, religions and economics to fully savour it. I was thinking it is a book mainly about economics, but I think it is more about philosophy, which is great because I like interdisciplinary topics. The book is getting better every moment you read, so read to the end. It begins a bit slow with a journey through mythology and religions and afterwards switches to philosophy and the ending is great when all the reading you've do A fascinating book that you need a bit of knowledge in philosophy, psychology, religions and economics to fully savour it. I was thinking it is a book mainly about economics, but I think it is more about philosophy, which is great because I like interdisciplinary topics. The book is getting better every moment you read, so read to the end. It begins a bit slow with a journey through mythology and religions and afterwards switches to philosophy and the ending is great when all the reading you've done is flowing into reasonable conclusions. The author elegantly touches on the morals and ethics of making money in different historical eras and how it influenced the modern economic thinking. As well I agree that economics cannot be limited to a set of numbers and you need a deep knowledge of a broad range of concepts from lots of different areas of science. My favourite part is the analysis of morality in different philosophical and religious context, especially the big fight of the Titans: Hedonists and Stoics and the influence on the economics of these two. But certainly, there are plenty of interesting topics for everyone. A must read for an intelligent person.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Barry Linetsky

    Professor Sedlacek sees economics as a social science and argues that economics rests on a more fundamental foundation of ethics (good and evil). He shows how this view has evolved throughout history, reaching its pinnacle with Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments. The book is very detailed and well written, and sets a foundation for 'humanomics', the recognition that ethics and economics go hand in glove.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jos

    What a refreshing and revealing read for me, a master in Economics and MBA, vintage 1986. This is to me a new perspective to see economic theory. Now I realize with what economic ideology I have been educated. It is a bit a long read, I am sure that the author can summarize his thoughts in a more succint way.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    I thought this was a very interesting book on economics. It deals more with the philosophy of economics rather than the mathmatics and it brought up some really interesting and thought provoking points.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Steve Gathje

    Very interesting book. Views economics through a moral/social lens using history as the guide. Neither liberal nor conservative. Rather, profoundly rooted in the nature of human beings and are moral udnerpinnings.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Melanie Valencia

    A truly fantastic historic overview of economics and its ontological development. A critique on the over- accumulation of society and over - mathematization of the field. 'We have exchanged too much wisdom for exactness, too much humanity for mathematization' Sedlacek.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul Ducard

    One of the few books I wanted to read again right after finishing. Didn't agree with all of it but it certainly made me think.

  30. 5 out of 5

    D. Meador

    #read26fw: number 6 for 2015 Very good book on meta-economics, as in metaphysical. Great for understanding where the field is today.

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