The problem with classic texts

Over at Fabio Rojas expresses the common problems people (not only me, thank god) seem to have with reading the classic texts. They are mostly communication problems. Back in the days it was fashionable to write wordy treatises, much in the style of the classic philosophical texts. Today, short and concise papers that bring across one point at a time are much more appreciated. And if you have to write a thick book then better make it fun to read.
Another point is the difference in language use. It can change quite dramatically over time and sometimes it’s hard to grasp what people meant hundred years ago. That’s especially true when you’re a non-native but reading Kant in German is definitely no pleasure either to me.
However, there is probably too much half-knowledege out there about what the classic texts actually say. Because people are copying from people who haven’t read the texts either. Work on the history of economic thought is therefore much appreciated. In the meantime I should get off my lazy behind and at least start reading Schumpeter.

Marko Grdesic wrote an interesting post on why modern economists don’t read Polanyi. He surveyed economists at top programs and discovered that only 3% had read Polanyi. I am not shocked. This post explains why.

For a while, I taught an undergrad survey course in sociology with an economic sociology focus. The goal is to teach sociology in a way interesting to undergraduate business and policy students. I often teach a module that might be called “capitalism’s defenders and critics.” On defense, we had Smith and Hayek. On offense, we had Marx and Polanyi.

And, my gawd, it was painful. Polanyi is a poor writer, even compared to windbags like Hayek and Marx. The basic point of the whole text is hard to discern other than, maybe, “capitalism didn’t develop the way you think” or “people change.” It was easily the text that people understood the least and none…

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