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Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street von [Sedlacek, Tomas, Havel, Vaclav]
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Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street Kindle Edition

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"Sedlacek takes mainstream economics as his clay, digging both his arms in up to the elbows in an attempt to explain the beliefs and ethical values underlying modern economics." - The New York Times


"There has long been a profound moral drive in Czech culture, seeking an ever larger view of the human, and trying to break through conceptual barriers to do so. In this sinewy and marvelous voyage of discovery, Tomas Sedlacek calls us all to think more imaginatively, more fully, and more concretely about economics than we have done for many generations. Many thinkers, including not a few economists, will be stimulated to new explorations by this book." -Michael Novak, author of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


"Economics of Good and Evil is an enchanting tour de force, offering the general public an unusual, erudite, and riveting view of the world. Scientists and scholars can choose how to read this book: either condemn it for its lack of a rigidly and traditionally scientific approach, or accept it as an invigorating elixir providing inspiration and vision for further study. I take it as the latter and I am certain the public will too." - Jan Svejnar, Professor of Business, Economics and Public Policy, University of Michigan


"A widely admired economist who sits on the National Economic Council in Prague radically rethinks his field, challenging assumptions about the business world in this work, a bestseller in the Czech Republic."-Publishers Weekly


"Tomas Sedlacek proposes no less than a 'humanomics, ' a view of our fate in this world of scarcity that takes account of human stories and philosophies. Economists have crippled themselves by their lack of scholarly breadth, and their 'scientific' disdain for human words. Sedlacek, who ranges from the epic of Gilgamesh to the movie The Matrix, cannot be accused of lack of breadth. What is most impressive, though, is his depth, drilling down into the soul of economics." -Deirdre McCloskey, author of Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce and The Cult of Statistical Significance


Kurzbeschreibung

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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  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • Dateigröße: 2090 KB
  • Seitenzahl der Print-Ausgabe: 365 Seiten
  • ISBN-Quelle für Seitenzahl: 0199767203
  • Verlag: Oxford University Press; Auflage: 1 (1. Juli 2011)
  • Verkauf durch: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Sprache: Englisch
  • ASIN: B0058C6Q8U
  • Text-to-Speech (Vorlesemodus): Aktiviert
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Our thanks go to Donald Rumsfeld. At least in part. In 2003, the former US Secretary of Defense revived the term "Old Europe". This grouchy politician wanted his wording to be perceived as dismissive. He felt that some European states' refusal to participate in the Second Gulf War for ethical reasons was worthy of all the contempt. However, those on the receiving end of his condemnation embraced his neologism with enthusiasm. Since it has served them as positive identification of all the achievements of their continent in the fields of ethics and morality.

Tomás Sedláèek, an economics graduate and university lecturer in Prague, is transferring this attitude of mind into our current understanding of economics. In his international bestseller "Economics of Good and Evil", he reveals the fact, that the question of good and evil in economics is an almost eternal topic for the last 4.000 years. Building on that, he 35-year-old characterises, that our contemporary economic doctrine of an neutral, steril science is a special case and hindering us to solve many of today's problems and challenges. The debt problems of the USA and Europe as well as the ideology of growth are only two significant examples for him. For this reason, the reader should not expect an intellectual extravaganza to solve these issues. The book's merit lies in Sedláèek's courage to present an uncompromising and unfashionable review of what gave rise to the situation in which we currently find ourselves. And how do deal with it in a better way, rather than developing yet more complex models or theories.

The first two thirds of his work lay the foundations and provide an introduction.
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Das Buch reiht bestimmte Erwaehnungen wirtschaftlicher Theorieansaetze aus der Weltliteratur aneinander. In diese wesentlich unverbundene Disposition werden Rueck- und Vorbezuege eingeschaltet. Ein akademischer Verlag koennte vermutlich argumentieren, dass das Buch wegen seines breiten Zugriffs und der nonkonformen Auffassung von wirtschaftlichem Handeln druckwuerdig ist. Anregende und interessante Lektuere zum Wiederverkauf.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Ich habe den Autor erst persönlich kennengelernt und bin dann auf sein Buch aufmerksam geworden. Es ist eine erfrischend andere Art sich der oekonomie zu naehern, unbedingt lesenswert!
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Was soll das Buch, welche Absichten verfolgte der Autor? Die wertvollen Erkenntnisse ließen sich in ein Paar wenigen Sätzen zusammenfassen. Stattdessen schwadroniert über obskure Mythen, zitiert das Gilgameschepos als wahre Geschichte etc. Das erste Buch, das ich nicht fertiggelesen habe; ich bin wohl tief eingeschlafen bei der Lektüre ....

What's it about? You could summarise fruitful wisdom in only few sentences. Instead, farfetched and boring swaggering over obscure myths. For instance, the Epic of Gilgamesh is taken as truth and it is misused to prove the author's ideas. That book is the very first that I haven't read to the end - probably because it made me fall asleep.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 von 5 Sternen 59 Rezensionen
49 von 52 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Sedlacek gives us a new way to look at economics 22. April 2011
Von Adam Shields - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts ( Was ist das? )
Very few book do I read that just surprise my by their originality. The Economics of God and Evil is one. Sedlacek is a Czech Economist, journalist and Economic Advisor to the first Czech President after the fall of communism. This book was originally written and published in Europe (and was adapted as a theater piece) before being reworked and now published in the US.

Few really well documented books (footnotes are about a third of almost every page) also clearly explain fairly academic subjects as well as this book does.

The concept is that Sedlacek traces several texts that show how we have thought of economics in history. These include the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Old Testament, Ancient Greece Philosophy, Christianity and New Testament, Descartes, Mandeville (who I had no concept of) and Adam Smith. He showed how the concepts of economics were different under each of these worldviews and how they influenced the rise of Western Thought about economics. Throughout he gives hints about places where he thinks that modern economics may have ventured away from what might be a better explanation.

Then he traces modern economic thought. The rise of desire, the change of economics from a philosophical science to a mathematical predictive science, the movement of 'invisible hand', the rise of the rational human, the dependence on progress and the eventual bloat of economies due to debt.

There is a real argument here and I am not going to trace it all, but I would encourage anyone that is really interested in economics, especially if you are a Christian (because I think Sedlacek best work is his exposition of the Old and New Testaments), to pick this up and really read it. I found it interesting that this week a survey was released that said that Evangelicals are most likely to think that there is no conflict between Christianity and Capitalism compared to the general population or any other segment of Christianity. In other words, those that are most conservative about their Christianity are also most likely to believe that it matches with the dominant economic model of the day.

In the end, Sedlacek calls for a renewed study in economics on morality and the philosophy of why our economy works as it does. He does not want to do away with the mathematical models that he criticizes so frequently, but to partner them with a deeper (almost religious) view of ethics. The final section is about the limitations of economics (and primarily the mathematical models of economics) and how economists (and those that rely on economists) need to be humble about what economics can reliably do.

One of the more interesting side tracks was the tracing of economics from a 'dismal science' to a progressive science, which views everything improving and getting better. He thinks that it is as much about the personality of the major thinkers as anything else, but he does think that we have moved too far toward a concept of perfectionism (which definitely has some Christian roots). But he is far from the only religious critic of progressiveness. He quotes CS Lewis as saying disapprovingly that we have begun to believe that, "Goodness equals what comes next."

Honestly, this is one of the most insightful and challenging books on economics I have read. I highly recommend it.

_______

This book was provided by the Amazon Vine program for the purposes of review.
15 von 15 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Meta-Economics 8. Mai 2011
Von William Carpenter - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts ( Was ist das? )
"Economics of Good and Evil" by Economist Tom Sedlacek is a collection of self-contained essays on a general theme. That theme, that modern economics has been overrun by "quants" - those economists that emphasize mathematical models and analyses that ignore the fact that economics is fundamentally about individuals making decisions.

The first part of the book "Ancient Economic" is a collection of essays about the economic world views of various ancient civilizations up through Adam Smith. I particularly enjoyed his essay on the Greek Epicurean and Stoic views.

The second part of the book "Blasphemous Thoughts" is a collection of essays on meta-economics, i.e. it looks at economic ideas and examines them in a philosophical way. I especially liked his discussions of the rather surprising role of myth and religion in economic thought.

This book was originally published in the Czech Republic in 2009 where it became a best seller and was turned, somehow, into a popular play! I admit that I can't imagine how this was done. This translation is well worth reading for the author's fascinating ideas and analysis, but I will say that the translation seems a bit awkward, even ragged, at places and makes reading the book a not unalloyed joy.
14 von 15 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Slow Economics 21. September 2011
Von Wesley Vander Lugt - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
I am no economist, but as student of theological ethics, I know a thing or two about good and evil, which is why I was interested to see how Tomas Sedlacek would tell this story. And I also know Tomas, or at least had the privilege of spending a week with him last summer, and find his voracious appetite for ideas and vigor for living infectious, which I had no doubt would leave its mark on this book. Plus, as the Chief Macro-Economist of the largest Czech bank, the former advisor of former Czech president Václav Havel, and one of the "five hot minds in economics" according to the Yale Economic Review, I knew this would be an important book to digest.

As a warning to enthusiastic readers, however, make sure you leave plenty of time for digestion, because this is a dense book. There is more philosophy and theology in this book than economics, which illustrates Sedlacek's overall thesis that what economics needs most is more meta-economics. We live in the Debt Age, drugged on consumption and obsessed with progress, and part of the problem is that we have ignored the stories that undergird current economic theory and practice. As an attempt to provide a corrective to the current malaise, therefore, Sedlacek interacts with major stories and ideas from Western culture and relates them to economics, including the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Old Testament, ancient Greek philosophy, Christianity, Enlightenment rationalism, and the thought of significant figures such as Bernard Mandeville and Adam Smith.

The breadth of material Sedlacek deals with is jaw-dropping, but it is not always cleanly organized or well-written, which makes for a fascinating yet frequently dizzying read. In addition, while there are some fascinating observations about how the Old and New Testaments contain and impacted economic thinking, some of these observations are based on simplistic proof-texting without considering the literary genre or historical context of a text. For example, Sedlacek observes that in a passage like Deut. 7:12-16, economic cycles are given moral explanations (66), but this is not situated within the larger context of the redemptive and missional drama of Deuteronomy and the rest of the Pentateuch. An excellent example of a more contextually sensitive, exegetically careful approach is Christopher Wright's treatment of economics in Old Testament Ethics for the People of God.

A similar dynamic exists in the chapter on Christianity, which contains valuable insights, but makes some unfounded conclusions, like the gospel being "a small payment for the conveyance of good news," rather than (more correctly) the good news itself (133). There is also a remark that the kingdom of God as preached by Jesus was foreign to Judaism, which is strange, considering that Jesus frequently retold the story of Israel in his parables (143). In fact, grasping the actual similarities and differences between the story of Israel and Christianity would have helped Sedlacek organize these two chapters in a more coherent and helpful fashion. But this weaknesses does not negate the main strength of telling these stories, which is that economics is actually "closer to Thomas Aquinas than it is to Isaac Newton" (132).

When addressing thinkers closer to his own field of economics, however, Sedlacek is more accurate, and corrects a popular myth that Adam Smith thought self-interest is the ultimate motivation for economic activity. In reality, Smith had a much more nuanced view, believing that many motives--including sympathy and loving benevolence--combine to create our economic climate. If anyone espoused a view of pure economic egoism, it was Bernard Mandeville, who argued that vices are indeed virtues. But this approach has only contributed to the debt crisis and increased our addiction to consumption. What is the way forward?

For Sedlacek, the way forward it "Sabbath economics," which means economists and consumers alike need to follow the rule: "do not always optimize" (245). In other words, "we should change the way we drive from MaxSpeed to MinDebt, and slow down to Economy drive" (248). Adopting this kind of economic practice and policy, however, means adopting a new economic model that takes seriously issues of meta-economics. We need to scrap models prioritizing progress at all costs, constant consumption, and feverish optimization, and adopt a model that puts us in "economic retro," pursuing pleasure with moderation during the good times while truly putting aside reserves for the bad times, instead of spiraling into deeper debt.

In other words, what Sedlacek is advocating, even though he doesn't use this phrase, is slow economics. Just as the slow food movement critiques fast food, industrialized agriculture, and alienation from the time-consuming and pleasurable processes of food production and consumption, Economics of Good and Evil critiques fast economics and advocates a more measured, thoughtful, conscientious, and pleasurable economy. Wendell Berry would be proud, and Christians should give a hearty "amen." In supporting this perspective, however, Sedlacek is content to borrow from any story or system of ideas, whether Hebraic or Hobbesian, Cartesian or Christian. Since, according to Sedlacek, all stories are fictional, we should not be concerned whether or not they correspond with reality, as long as we recognize the unavoidable role of faith and seek after a beautifully coherent worldview. Whereas this might be a big step forward for secular economists, this is unsatisfying for me as a Christian who believes that the truth of Christianity coheres and corresponds with reality. What if slow economics is not just a beautiful idea, but corresponds with how God created the world and how he is in the process of re-creating it? Maybe Sedlacek agrees, but that would take quite another book, and one even more daring.
9 von 9 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A well written tour de force 15. April 2011
Von Petur O. Jonsson - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts ( Was ist das? )
This is a very ambitious book. It weaves together a variety of seemingly disparate ideas and comes up with an imaginative and coherent tapestry. In a nutshell, one might say that it is about meta-economics and the history of economic ideas. Sedlacek argues that the concerns of economics are also the concerns of myths, of theology, and of philosophy. Here, one of Selacek's points is that the rigorous structure and formal logic of modern day economics obscure the fact that it represents a narrative and that this narrative supports a particular normative world view.

Definitions of economics usually boil down to it being a social science that focuses on the choices that people make. Thus economics encompasses most human concerns. Certainly it overlaps the other social sciences and we can even think of it as applied ethics (in that economics has a set of normative criteria for judging choices). It is in this context that Sedlacek suggests that key arguments of economics ultimately tend to be about good and evil. Yet, economists strive to deny this and our notion of positive economics is all about avoiding judment. As Sedlacek points out, there is great irony in the fact that economics sees itself as a science of values and yet it pretends to eschew value judgment.

Sedlacek's tour de force narrative is not easily summarized. Suffice it to say that he is a fantastic writer. One might even refer to him as a seductive storyteller. I have seen elements of his arguments before, but I have never seen them put together this persuasively. And, while I did not necessarily agree with all of his arguments, I still enjoyed this book tremendously.

I should note that sometimes his account of modern day economics is oversimplified and he tends to see arguments that were originally made for expository clarity as evidence of a particular a world view. Moreover, he is a methodological anarchist who gives little credence to the intrinsic logic and power of economics. The way I see it, while individual economic models can be wrong or misleading, economics is still built on a set of a few relatively simple and yet pretty much irrefutable ideas: choices have opportunity cost; people tend to respond to incentives; talk is cheap; trade is bilateral, etc. And while recent advances in psychology and neuroscience have complicated things, the basic logic of economics still remains.

All that said, the bottom line is that I loved this book. Moreover, when compared to dumbed-down accounts of economic ideas (like Heilbroner's Worldly Philosophers, for example) this book is a true masterpiece.
6 von 7 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Finally! Sensible Thoughts on Economics 1. Juli 2011
Von Theresa Welsh - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts ( Was ist das? )
Economic orthodoxy says we must seek constant growth in our GDP. For that to happen, people must buy stuff, and because most people are not lacking in what they really need, the economy must stimulate desire for things they DON'T need. Marketing and advertising stimulate desire for stuff we don't currently have which makes us work harder and produce more, and and so the economy grows. Economists trot out numbers and charts to illustrate the growth effects of wanting more, working more and buying more. But Tomas Sedlacek dares to challenge this scenario in which Homo Economicus sees his existence as the endless pursuit of profit and possessions.

-- WHAT ARE THE ROOTS OF ECONOMIC THEORY? --
He does not challenge it by presenting us with his own charts and projections, but by asking us to look back - way back - in the past and think about where the whole concept of economics comes from. He asks us to consider how this whole cycle of work and buy got started. He takes us back to the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve had life pretty good until they wanted the one thing they couldn't have - the forbidden fruit. Once they tasted that, they discovered that the previously pleasurable "work" of taking care of the garden was now less pleasant.

We move forward in time to Gilgamesh, the Babylonian demi-god who was busy putting up a big wall around his city until he met Enkidu, a "wild" man who lived in the unsafe area outside the walls of the city. But Gilgamesh cannot resist seeing what's out there and he and Enkidu go on adventures that introduces Enkidu to the hard work in pursuit of pleasure that characterizes civilized man while Gilgamesh discovers the freedom of his wild side and abandons wall-building. The point of these stories is that humans always want what is just out of reach, and the field of economics has seized on that desire as the key to economic growth. Our very myths and stories reaching back into the mists of time tell us how we got this way.

We go on further journeys in time through ancient Hebrew views of society, the teachings of Jesus, the Greeks with their Stoics and Epicureans (Hedonists) and of course, Plato, with his illusionary world in the cave of shadows. These ancient thinkers originated the key concept of "utility." This is the idea that people behave in a way that maximizes the usefulness of their acts to themselves. As the author later shows, this is a bit of a tautology (we do what is useful because it is useful), but it is a basic idea in Economics. The Stoic - Hedonist dichotomy is all about whether man should act according to sensible rules and not according to the expected outcome of his behavior or should act in his own best interests by doing whatever produces a good result for himself. This is an argument that goes on today. Do the ends justify the means? What does this have to do with Economics? Quite a lot - how we think about this affects how we live and work and that affects society and its economic life.

-- CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY AND ECONOMICS --
I found in this book an answer to something in Christian theology that has long puzzled me. What is the meaning of the concept that "Jesus died for our sins?" There is an answer in the ancient Hebrew concept of debt as being something that had to have limits. People who became so mired in debt they could not get out became "debt slaves." But the Hebrews had a built-in release valve for this condition: The Jubilee Year which occurred every 49 years; it was a "year of forgiveness" when debt slaves were freed and all land reverted to its original owners, which allowed all the tribes who had come to Canaan to retain a portion of the land forever. This "forgiveness" was seen as necessary to building a just and fair society, even though it meant some debts were not actually repaid and some received benefit they did not "earn." It seems this is the same concept (or metaphor) applied to Jesus' death on the cross. Like a Jubilee Year, Jesus erases the debt for the evil acts of mankind.

The author shows how many ancient thinkers (Thomas Aquinas and others) thought evil was part of our world and could not be eradicated. They went so far as to say that good can come out of evil acts or at least be so tightly bound up with good that eliminating evil would also eliminate a lot of good. Jesus said not to throw out the weeds right away for fear of pulling out the good plants, but to wait until you harvest the crops, and he said you should not return evil for evil so as not to propagate it further, but return good for evil. In this way of viewing morality, it was not always about placing blame for bad happenings like debt or loss. Evil just IS and we must exist with it.

-- FINANCIAL REDEMPTION AND THE INVISIBLE HAND --
Today, we still practice forgiveness of debts with bankruptcy laws and when the government bails out institutions, as the US government did in the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009. The banks and financial institutions that were the furthest in the hole got the largest forgiveness, just like the worst sinners receive forgiveness the same as those whose offenses are small. Is this fair? The question becomes irrelevant when we consider the necessity of financial forgiveness to avoid financial Armageddon.

Hebrews obeyed the laws of their God whether it maximized their own "utility" or not, believing these rules were for the good of all. Mass forgiveness like the Jubilee Year maximizes utility for the whole society rather than just for one person. Aristotle taught something similar, believing all good should be for the society as a whole. Aristotle gave us the concept of maximizing Good (MaxG) instead of maximizing Utility (MaxU).

Our present economic thought is all about MaxU and this is considered to derive from Adam Smith and the "invisible hand" which is supposed to guide our economic actions to always bring about a good result if just left alone.

But the author tells us that Adam Smith only mentioned the invisible hand three times in his extensive writings and Adam Smith was not a believer in MaxU. These ideas can be more accurately ascribed to Bernard Mandeville whose ideas were at the far end of the spectrum of good vs. evil; he thought evil was good for the economy and that there was lots of profit in vice. Like the movie character, Gordon Gecko, he thought greed was good. Keeping people discontented was a great idea so they would keep seeking ways to profit so they could buy more stuff. What we needed, 20th century economists told us, was to encourage consumption and more consumption. That, according to this point of view, is the way of progress.

-- GRATITUDE VS. CONSUMPTION --
Some years ago, I discovered that I really did not need any more possessions and I found that exchanging GRATITUDE for seeking more stuff made for happiness. In the "pursuit of happiness," an attitude of gratitude goes a long way. In the last part of this book, the author makes that very point. He suggests we try being GRATEFUL for what we have. He suggests that Economics needs to rediscover its roots in moral philosophy, that Economics is not, and cannot be, value-neutral. Mathematical models have become the content of Economics instead of a tool to use along with assessing how life really works. The author has a nice discussion about the elusiveness of reality and how little it relates to models.

Economic theories cannot predict the future, which depends on factors outside how much we are all busy maximizing utility. I actually found this a rather funny idea - I had never considered anything I did in terms of how much I was "maximizing utility." It has always seemed strange that the behavior that's good for me -- not buying stuff I don't need --is bad for the economy. How can these things be opposed to each other? The author cites many renowned thinkers, but he left out my previous favorite author on this subject. Some years ago, I read a little book by John Kenneth Galbraith called "The Good Society." This laid out how we can have a "good" (MaxG) society in which everyone benefits. It had a point of view that was not based on mathematics. I don't know if author Sedlacek has read Galbraith, but I think they might find some agreement.

I really liked and enjoyed this book. I would give it six stars, if I could!
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