Read: On Classical Economics

The nice thing about a (large) private collection of un-read books is that you can start immediately to read more of a topic as soon as your interest is turned towards that particular niche of you bookshelves.

After having read Robbins' A history of economic thought I now turned to Sowell’s On classical economics. What was a rather different experience.

On classical economics is a loose collection of independent essays that appear to have a common structure but actually have not. The first half of the essays deal with topics: philosophy, macroeconomics, microeconomics, and methodology of the classical economists; the second half focuses on individuals of the respective time period. Some of the essays are rather dated, the first were published in the 1970s. Though, since Sowell does not refer to (almost) any of the secondary literature on the topic – not in his older essays and not in the more recent ones that make up this collection – you just do not notice that they are from different periods. In fact, you do not notice that Sowell holds views on the topic that may differ substantially from those of the current majority of scholars (unless you already know about them). He just neglects all other research and focuses on the original works.

Consequently, opinions about the scholarly value of On classical economics may differ widely as can be seen in a number of reviews of the text (that can be found by a simple google search of the title). While, e.g., a J. Ahiakpor sees obvious deficiencies J. Ullmer and J. Berdell are much more enthusiastic about it.

I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I enjoyed reading the book (if you discount the enormous number of endnotes – I hate endnotes, I much prefer footnotes). On the other hand, the text is too driven by a single opinion and not balanced at all. Thus, you are forced to read more on the sub-topics and diverse classical authors to get the whole picture, the essence of their work and accomplishments. Further, the focus on dissenters of the classical economics of their time is rather biased and leads to a debasing of the accomplishments of classical economics.