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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


The Social Structures Of The Economy by Pierre Bourdieu (Polity Press) Much orthodox economic theory is based on assumptions which are treated as self-evident: supply and demand are regarded as independent entities, the individual is assumed to be a rational agent who knows his interests and how to make decisions corresponding to them, and so on. But one has only to examine an economic transaction closely, as Pierre Bourdieu does here for the buying and selling of houses, to see that these abstract assumptions cannot explain what happens in reality. As Bourdieu shows, the market is constructed by the state, which can decide, for example, whether to promote private housing or collective provision. And the individuals involved in the transaction are immersed in symbolic constructions which constitute, in a strong sense, the value of houses, neighborhoods and towns.

The abstract and illusory nature of the assumptions of orthodox economic theory has been criticized by some economists, but Bourdieu argues that we must go further. Supply, demand, the market and even the buyer and seller are products of a process of social construction, and so-called ‘economic' processes can be adequately described only by calling on sociological methods. Instead of seeing the two disciplines in antagonistic terms, it is time to recognize that sociology and economics are in fact part of a single discipline, the object of which is the analysis of social facts, of which economic transactions are in the end merely one aspect.

This brilliant study by the most original sociologist of post-war France will be essential reading for students and scholars of sociology, economics, anthropology and related disciplines.

Optimal Control Theory: An Introduction by Donald E. Kirk (Dover) unabridged republication of the edition published by Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1970. 131 figures. 14 tables. Index.

Optimal control theory is the science of maximizing the returns from and minimizing the costs of the operation of physical, social, and economic processes. Geared toward upper-level undergraduates, this text introduces three aspects of optimal control theory: dynamic pro­gramming, Pontryagin's minimum principle, and numerical techniques for trajectory optimization.

Chapters 1 and 2 focus on describing systems and evaluating their performances. Chapter 3 deals with dynamic programming. The cal­culus of variations and Pontryagin's minimum principle are the sub­jects of chapters 4 and 5, and chapter 6 examines iterative numerical techniques for finding optimal controls and trajectories. Numerous problems, intended to introduce additional topics as well as to illustrate basic concepts, appear throughout the text. 

Productivity In The U.S. Services Sector: New Sources Of Economic Growth edited by Jack E. Triplett, Barry P. Bosworth (Brookings Institution Press) The services industries—which include jobs ranging from flipping hamburgers to providing investment advice—can no longer be characterized, as they have in the past, as a stagnant sector marked by low productivity growth. They have emerged as one of the most dynamic and innovative segments of the U.S. economy, now accounting for more than three-quarters of gross domestic product. During the 1990s, 19 million additional jobs were created in this sector, while growth was stagnant in the goods-producing sector.

Here, Jack Triplett and Barry Bosworth analyze services sector productivity, demonstrating that fundamental changes have taken place in this sector of the U.S. economy. They show that growth in the services industries fueled the post-1995 expansion in the U.S. productivity and assess the role of information technology in transforming and accelerating services productivity. In addition to their findings for the services sector as a whole, they include separate chapters for a diverse range of industries within the sector, including transportation and communications, wholesale and retail trade, and finance and insurance.

The authors also examine productivity measurement issues, chiefly statistical methods for measuring services industry output. They highlight the importance of making improvements within the U.S. statistical system to provide the more accurate and relevant measures essential for analyzing productivity and economic growth.

Greece's New Political Economy: State, Finance and Growth from Postwar to EMU by George Pagoulatos (Palgrave MacMillan) traces the course of Greece from a postwar developmental state to its current participation in the Euro-zone, but the book is no isolated work on a small state. Rather it makes Greece relevant to a wider audience interested in the new political economy. It is the story of Greece ’s Europeanization, an excellent case-study of the gradual shift from a developmental state to a stabilization state, with persisting elements of clientelism.

Taking an innovative comparative approach, George Pagoulatos, Assistant Professor of Politics, Athens University of Economics and Business, examines the political economy of financial interventionism and liberalization, banking politics, relations between the government and central bank, the winners and losers of financial reform, the effects of globalization and EMU, and the implications of the new economic role of the state.

Chapters include:

  • An Introduction - on the Importance of Finance and the Origins of Developmentalism
  • Regime Dependencies and the Political Economy of Postwar Economic Policies
  • Policy Paradigms, Financial Intervention, and the Limits of Developmentalism
  • Crisis and Transition: Regime Change, Democratization, and the Decline of Developmentalism
  • Central Bank, Government, and the Politics of Financial Liberalization
  • Banks and Socioeconomic Interests: Winners and Losers of Financial Reform
  • The New Political Economy of Financial Integration, Globalization, and the EMU
  • State, Finance, and Growth: Beyond the New Political Economy

Greece's New Political Economy is a work of the highest level of scholarship, a beautifully written, topical account of the links between the world of finance and the world of politics. According to Nancy Bermeo, a professor at Princeton University, the book is both “an elegant history of 50 years of Greek political economy and a compelling theoretical argument about the factors that make for changes and continuities in economic policy-making everywhere;” it is “a lasting contribution to literatures on the politics of finance, the political economy of small states, and Greek politics.”

General Economic History by  Max Weber, translated by Frank Hyneman Knight ( Dover) The final work of the great sociologist, economist, and political scientist Max Weber (1864-1920), this book is based on a series of lectures Weber delivered shortly before his death. Featuring the innovative interpretations of economic life and change for which its author is famed, General Economic History employs a form of economic analysis that encompasses social dimensions. In direct opposition to the Marxist views of his era, which defined economics as the preeminent factor in social causation, Weber stresses the plurality and interdependence of causes, emphasizing religious values, ideologies, and charismatic leaders as socioeconomic forces.
Starting with descriptions and analyses of the agrarian systems, the author explores the manorial system, guilds, and early capitalism as developed on plantations and other estates. Subsequent economic trends include the organization of industry and mining, the development of commerce, technical requisites for transporting goods, and banking systems. The final section surveys the evolution of capitalism and the capitalistic spirit, concluding with Weber's celebrated discussion of the relationship of religion to the cultural history of capitalism.
A ground-breaking work in the development of social science methodology, this classic continues to influence modern sociologists and economists.

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