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Beyond the Invisible Hand

Groundwork for a New Economics

Kaushik Basu

One of the central tenets of mainstream economics is Adam Smith's proposition that, given certain conditions, self-interested behavior by individuals leads them to the social good, almost as if orchestrated by an invisible hand. This deep insight has, over the past two centuries, been taken out of context, contorted, and used as the cornerstone of free-market orthodoxy. In Beyond the Invisible Hand, Kaushik Basu argues that mainstream economics and its conservative popularizers have misrepresented Smith's insight and hampered our understanding of how economies function, why some economies fail and some succeed, and what the nature and role of state intervention might be. Comparing this view of the invisible hand with the vision described by Kafka--in which individuals pursuing their atomistic interests, devoid of moral compunction, end up creating a world that is mean and miserable--Basu argues for collective action and the need to shift our focus from the efficient society to one that is also fair.

Using analytic tools from mainstream economics, the book challenges some of the precepts and propositions of mainstream economics. It maintains that, by ignoring the role of culture and custom, traditional economics promotes the view that the current system is the only viable one, thereby serving the interests of those who do well by this system. Beyond the Invisible Hand challenges readers to fundamentally rethink the assumptions underlying modern economic thought and proves that a more equitable society is both possible and sustainable, and hence worth striving for.

By scrutinizing Adam Smith's theory, this impassioned critique of contemporary mainstream economics debunks traditional beliefs regarding best economic practices, self-interest, and the social good.

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Beyond the Market

The Social Foundations of Economic Efficiency

Jens Beckert

Beyond the Market launches a sociological investigation into economic efficiency. Prevailing economic theory, which explains efficiency using formalized rational choice models, often simplifies human behavior to the point of distortion. Jens Beckert finds such theory to be particularly weak in explaining such crucial forms of economic behavior as cooperation, innovation, and action under conditions of uncertainty--phenomena he identifies as the proper starting point for a sociology of economic action.

Beckert levels an enlightened critique at neoclassical economics, arguing that understanding efficiency requires looking well beyond the market to the social, cultural, political, and cognitive factors that influence the coordination of economic action. Beckert searches social theory for the components of an alternative theory of action, one that accounts for the social embedding of economic behavior. In Durkheim and Parsons he finds especially useful approaches to cooperation; in Luhmann, a way to understand how people act under highly contingent conditions; and in Giddens, an understanding of creative action and innovation. Together, these provide building blocks for a research program that will yield a theoretically sophisticated understanding of how economic processes are coordinated and the ways that markets are embedded in social, cultural, and cognitive structures.

Containing one of the most fully informed critiques of the neoclassical analysis of economic efficiency--as well as one of the most thoughtful blueprints for economic sociology--this book reclaims for sociology the study of one of the most important arenas of human action.

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The Big Ditch

How America Took, Built, Ran, and Ultimately Gave Away the Panama Canal

Noel Maurer

On August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal officially opened for business, forever changing the face of global trade and military power, as well as the role of the United States on the world stage. The Canal's creation is often seen as an example of U.S. triumphalism, but Noel Maurer and Carlos Yu reveal a more complex story. Examining the Canal's influence on Panama, the United States, and the world, The Big Ditch deftly chronicles the economic and political history of the Canal, from Spain's earliest proposals in 1529 through the final handover of the Canal to Panama on December 31, 1999, to the present day.

The authors show that the Canal produced great economic dividends for the first quarter-century following its opening, despite massive cost overruns and delays. Relying on geographical advantage and military might, the United States captured most of these benefits. By the 1970s, however, when the Carter administration negotiated the eventual turnover of the Canal back to Panama, the strategic and economic value of the Canal had disappeared. And yet, contrary to skeptics who believed it was impossible for a fledgling nation plagued by corruption to manage the Canal, when the Panamanians finally had control, they switched the Canal from a public utility to a for-profit corporation, ultimately running it better than their northern patrons.

A remarkable tale, The Big Ditch offers vital lessons about the impact of large-scale infrastructure projects, American overseas interventions on institutional development, and the ability of governments to run companies effectively.

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The Big Problem of Small Change

Thomas J. Sargent

The Big Problem of Small Change offers the first credible and analytically sound explanation of how a problem that dogged monetary authorities for hundreds of years was finally solved. Two leading economists, Thomas Sargent and François Velde, examine the evolution of Western European economies through the lens of one of the classic problems of monetary history--the recurring scarcity and depreciation of small change. Through penetrating and clearly worded analysis, they tell the story of how monetary technologies, doctrines, and practices evolved from 1300 to 1850; of how the "standard formula" was devised to address an age-old dilemma without causing inflation.

One big problem had long plagued commodity money (that is, money literally worth its weight in gold): governments were hard-pressed to provide a steady supply of small change because of its high costs of production. The ensuing shortages hampered trade and, paradoxically, resulted in inflation and depreciation of small change. After centuries of technological progress that limited counterfeiting, in the nineteenth century governments replaced the small change in use until then with fiat money (money not literally equal to the value claimed for it)--ensuring a secure flow of small change. But this was not all. By solving this problem, suggest Sargent and Velde, modern European states laid the intellectual and practical basis for the diverse forms of money that make the world go round today.

This keenly argued, richly imaginative, and attractively illustrated study presents a comprehensive history and theory of small change. The authors skillfully convey the intuition that underlies their rigorous analysis. All those intrigued by monetary history will recognize this book for the standard that it is.

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Big Structures, Large Processes, Huge Comparisons

This lively and erudite essay, now available in paperback, addresses a broad, central question: How can we improve our understanding of the large-scale social and political changes that transformed the world of the nineteenth century and are transforming our world today?   "In this short, brilliant book Tilly suggests a way to think about theories of historical social change....This book should find attentive readers both in undergraduate courses and in graduate seminars. It should also find appreciative readers, for Tilly is a writer as well as a scholar." —Choice

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The Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities

The Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities

Social scientists have repeatedly uncovered a disturbing feature of economic inequality: people with larger incomes and better education tend to lead longer, healthier lives. This pattern holds across all ages and for virtually all measures of health, apparently indicating a biological dimension of inequality. But scholars have only begun to understand the complex mechanisms that drive this disparity. How exactly do financial well-being and human physiology interact? The Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities incorporates insights from the social and biological sciences to quantify the biology of disadvantage and to assess how poverty gets under the skin to impact health. Drawing from unusually rich datasets of biomarkers, brain scans and socioeconomic measures, Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities illustrates exciting new paths to understanding social inequalities in health. Barbara Wolfe, William Evans and Nancy Adler begin the volume with a critical evaluation of the literature on income and health, providing a lucid review of the difficulties of establishing clear causal pathways between the two variables. Arun S. Karlamangla, Tara L. Gruenewald, and Teresa E. Seeman outline the potential of biomarkers—such as cholesterol, heart pressure and C-reactive protein—to assess and indicate the factors underlying health. Edith Chen, Hanna M. C. Schreier, and Meanne Chan reveal the empirical power of biomarkers by examining asthma, a condition steeply correlated with socioeconomic status. Their analysis shows how stress at the individual, family, and neighborhood levels can increase the incidence of asthma. The volume then turns to cognitive neuroscience, using biomarkers in a new way to examine the impact of poverty on brain development. Jamie Hanson, Nicole Hair, Amitabh Chandra, Ed Moss, Jay Bhattacharya, Seth Pollack, and Barbara Wolfe use a longitudinal Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) study of children between the ages of four and eighteen to study the link between poverty and limited cognition among children. Michelle C. Carlson, Christopher L. Seplaki, and Teresa E. Seeman also focus on brain development to examine the role of socioeconomic status in cognitive decline among older adults. The authors report promising results from programs designed to improve cognitive function among the elderly poor by increasing physical activity and social engagement. Featuring insights from the biological and social sciences, Biological Consequences of Socioeconomic Inequalities will be an essential resource for scholars interested in socioeconomic disparities and the biological imprint that material deprivation leaves on the human body.

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The Black Death in Egypt and England

A Comparative Study

By Stuart J. Borsch

Throughout the fourteenth century AD/eighth century H, waves of plague swept out of Central Asia and decimated populations from China to Iceland. So devastating was the Black Death across the Old World that some historians have compared its effects to those of a nuclear holocaust. As countries began to recover from the plague during the following century, sharp contrasts arose between the East, where societies slumped into long-term economic and social decline, and the West, where technological and social innovation set the stage for Europe’s dominance into the twentieth century. Why were there such opposite outcomes from the same catastrophic event? In contrast to previous studies that have looked to differences between Islam and Christianity for the solution to the puzzle, this pioneering work proposes that a country’s system of landholding primarily determined how successfully it recovered from the calamity of the Black Death. Stuart Borsch compares the specific cases of Egypt and England, countries whose economies were based in agriculture and whose pre-plague levels of total and agrarian gross domestic product were roughly equivalent. Undertaking a thorough analysis of medieval economic data, he cogently explains why Egypt’s centralized and urban landholding system was unable to adapt to massive depopulation, while England’s localized and rural landholding system had fully recovered by the year 1500.

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The Blind Decades

Employment and Growth in France, 1974-2014

Philippe Askenazy

France is often described as one of the last Western economies that has not been able to reform itself in the face of globalization. Yet its economy has not fallen by the wayside, and it has even resisted the great recession that began in 2008. By interlinking historical, economic, and political factors, and by comparing France with other nations, this book offers keys for understanding the puzzle found in the development of France. Dynamics at work in the French case sidestep the usual injunctions—less state control or less rigidity in the labor market—and instead stress the importance of the construction of a long-term industrial strategy.

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Blue Skies: A History of Cable Television

Cable television is arguably the dominant mass media technology in the U.S. today.  Blue Skies traces its history in detail, depicting the important events and people that shaped its development, from the precursors of cable TV in the 1920s and '30s to the first community antenna systems in the 1950s, and from the creation of the national satellite-distributed cable networks in the 1970s to the current incarnation of "info-structure" that dominates our lives.  Author Patrick Parsons also considers the ways that economics, public perception, public policy, entrepreneurial personalities, the social construction of the possibilities of cable, and simple chance all influenced the development of cable TV.

Since the 1960s, one of the pervasive visions of "cable" has been of a ubiquitous, flexible, interactive communications system capable of providing news, information, entertainment, diverse local programming, and even social services.  That set of utopian hopes became known as the "Blue Sky" vision of cable television, from which the book takes its title.

Thoroughly documented and carefully researched, yet lively, occasionally humorous, and consistently insightful, Blue Skies is the genealogy of our media society.

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The Body Economic

Life, Death, and Sensation in Political Economy and the Victorian Novel

Catherine Gallagher

The Body Economic revises the intellectual history of nineteenth-century Britain by demonstrating that political economists and the writers who often presented themselves as their literary antagonists actually held most of their basic social assumptions in common. Catherine Gallagher demonstrates that political economists and their Romantic and early-Victorian critics jointly relocated the idea of value from the realm of transcendent spirituality to that of organic "life," making human sensations--especially pleasure and pain--the sources and signs of that value. Classical political economy, this book shows, was not a mechanical ideology but a form of nineteenth-century organicism, which put the body and its feelings at the center of its theories, and neoclassical economics built itself even more self-consciously on physiological premises.

The Body Economic explains how these shared views of life, death, and sensation helped shape and were modified by the two most important Victorian novelists: Charles Dickens and George Eliot. It reveals how political economists interacted crucially with the life sciences of the nineteenth century--especially with psychophysiology and anthropology--producing the intellectual world that nurtured not only George Eliot's realism but also turn-of-the-century literary modernism.

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