I rummaged around on the high bookshelves and, lo, there was an aged paperback copy of Anti-Samuelson, Vol. 2. (No idea where Volume 1 went. Object lesson in why it is time to get rid of the books that no one will ever open again, and save future generations the trouble.) I realize that this makes me seem (i) truly econo-geeky in all the wrong ways, (ii) chomskyesque and intellectual radical-chic, but then I am the product of a passage from left to right, (iii) a middle aged academic bitterly clinging to the truths of the 1970s.
Except that I never actually read it. My problem was, I came very late to economics from philosophy — it was not until law school that I took any economics, so I hadn’t read Samuelson and couldn’t understand three sentences of Anti-Samuelson, either the economics or the radical critique. It just sat on a shelf in my library looking chic and radical, until it started looking aged and bitter.
Today, the correct answer to almost every undergraduate economics exam question either is or depends on the deduction of what maximizes utility with respect to a given set of parameters. And the unspoken assumption (otherwise this is all a bunch of mental masturbation) is that this is somehow “right,” that this condition makes things “better,” without any reconsideration of modern economics’ first principles – precisely the ones Adam Smith dismissed in his day. These answers are “optimal.” They identify “bliss points.” What effect does it have on a generation of minds when the correct answer, exam after exam, semester after semester, is “maximimze utility?”