Peter J. Boettke, Living Economics: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Oakland, CA: The Independent Institute, and Francisco Marroquin University, 2012).
Reviewed by Leonard P. Liggio
It is rare to find a book on economics which is truly enjoyable. Peter Boettke’s Living Economics is such an economics book. One can understand, reading these chapters, why Peter Boettke is such a very successful teacher. His knowledge and intellectual interests are much more far ranging than most, and his students have been the beneficiaries of his talents. The book consists of chapters about the various economists whose work has influenced the development of Boettke’s thinking about economics. One chapter – “Mr. Boulding and the Austrians” – reminded me that my first economics course as a sophomore at Georgetown College used Kenneth Boulding’s economics textbook. I had just read Ludwig von Mises Human Action (Yale, 1949) and found Boulding generally consistent with von Mises. Economics textbooks changed a lot right after that with the dominance of Paul Samuelson’s textbook. Kenneth and Elsie Boulding were visiting professors at George Mason University on leave from the University of Colorado in the early years of the Institute for Humane Studies affiliation with George Mason University while Boettke was a graduate student at GMU.
As an undergraduate student at Grove City College, Boettke’s interest in economics was encouraged by his courses with Hans Sennholz. I had known Sennholz while he was a Ph. D. student in the NYU seminar of Ludwig von Mises. He was an insightful lecturer on the dangers of monetary manipulation in causing economic crises, as well as on challenges in the development of a European Union. Another economist I first met in von Mises’ NYU seminar was Murray N. Rothbard. Boettke focuses on the influence of Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State (2 vols., Princeton, NJ, Van Nostrand, 1962): “Rothbard not only provided the reader with a thorough presentation of the basic principles of economic and political economy, but gave the serious student a framework for the analysis of real-existing socialism in the Soviet Union that was far superior to the framework that dominated Sovietology and the field of comparative economic systems at the time, and if truth be told, to this day.”
Boettke discusses his courses with James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock and Don Lavoie, and the differing contributions of each. The dominant themes in Boettke’s essays are methodological individualism and spontaneous order. The works of von Mises and Hayek played an important role. In addition there were the influences of Elinor and Vincent Ostrom, Peter Berger and Israel Kirzner.
Boettke sees himself in “mainline economics” which he describes as extending from the Late Scholastics of 16th and 17th centuries’ University of Salamanca whose “insights were further developed in economics from the Classical School of Economics (both in the Scottish Enlightenment version of Adam Smith and the French Liberal tradition of Jean-Baptiste Say and Frederic Bastiat), to the early Neoclassical School (especially the Austrian version of Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek), and finally with the contemporary development of New Institutional Economics (as reflected in the property rights economics of Armin Alchian and Harold Demsetz); the new economic history of Douglass North; the law and economics of Ronald Coase; the public choice economics of James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock; the economics of governance associated with Oliver Williamson and Elinor Ostrom; and the market process economics of Israel Kirzner).” He distinguishes “mainline economics” from “mainstream economics” which Boettke describes as “a sociological concept related to what Is fashionable among the scientific elite of the profession.”
Boettke is the co-author of the recent editions of the late Paul Heynes’ textbook, The Economic Way of Thinking (Prentice-Hall). The reader will find Living Economics to be an occasion to learn and to enjoy.