The Story Of Economics

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01Gods2011031620110716

In this three-part series Michael Blastland lays out the history of economic ideas to understand why economics goes wrong and whether it can ever go entirely right.

In the first programme, 'Gods', Michael travels to Athens and the site of Aristotle's Lyceum - where economics as a discipline began.

He finds that the first economists were not really economists at all.

They were moral philosophers.

Today, questions of morality remain at the heart of economics.

Your greedy self-interest is another's virtuous self-reliance.

And here's a funny thing.

If you think government should get off our backs - for moral reasons of course - you probably think cutting it will be good for the economy too.

If you think the government should help people more, you probably also think doing so will stimulate economic growth.

'Good' and 'bad' sure complicate the sums.

Is it any wonder economists can't agree?

In next week's programme, 'Cogs', Michael travels to Chicago to explore another view of economics - that it is not moral philosophy but a hard science, explaining the irrefutable mechanism of the market.

Producer: Richard Knight.

Michael Blastland goes to Athens, where economics as a discipline began.

In the first programme, 'Gods', Michael goes to Athens and the site of Aristotle's Lyceum - where economics as a discipline began.

02Cogs2011032320110723

In this three-part series Michael Blastland lays out the history of economic ideas to understand why economics goes wrong and whether it can ever go entirely right.

In the second programme, 'Cogs', Michael travels to Chicago to explore another view of economics: that it is a science, explaining the irrefutable mechanism of the market.

But has economics, with its language of 'laws', 'models' and 'forces', deceived itself and others by creating a false impression of precision? Why, despite decades of mechanical economics, do answers to some of biggest economic questions still elude us?

In the next programme, 'Monsters', Michael asks whether the problem is not the machine, but the people within it.

In recent years economics has looked increasingly to the human factor, to experimental studies of behaviour, and to psychology.

And that's where we turn next week.

Producer: Richard Knight.

Michael Blastland goes to Chicago to explore a machine-like view of the economy.

In the second programme, 'Cogs', Michael goes to Chicago to explore a machine-like view of the economy.

03 LASTMonsters2011033020110730

In this three-part series Michael Blastland lays out the history of economic ideas to understand why economics goes wrong and whether it can ever go entirely right.

In the third and final programme, 'Monsters', Michael investigates another view of economics: that it is the story of people, how they think and behave.

The idea raises intriguing questions about whether we really are the rational, self-interested agents described by the machine-like economic models of last week's programme.

Is my, or your, economic judgement as sound as we probably both like to think? Are we swept along by the mob and the moment? Are we prisoners of time and place whose choices aren't calculated, but absorbed from culture?

All this human stuff certainly complicates the calculations.

Add that to everything else we have discovered in this series - that economics is moral, political, scientific, technical, statistical, theoretical, cultural, historical - and, oh dear.

Is it any wonder economists disagree?

Producer: Richard Knight.

Michael goes to Cambridge, where Keynes conjured the spectre of 'animal spirits'.

In this three-part series Michael Blastland lays out the history of economic ideas to understand why economics goes wrong and whether it can ever go entirely right.

In the final programme, 'Monsters', Michael goes to Cambridge - where Keynes conjured the spectre of 'animal spirits'.

Producer: Richard Knight.

Michael goes to Cambridge, where Keynes conjured the spectre of 'animal spirits'.