‘The Economists’ Hour’

 

Binyamin Appelbaum, Brown, 448 pages, $30. Few economists worked at the Federal Reserve in the early 1950s. Those who were on the staff of America’s central bank were relegated to the basement. But in the decades after World War II, the profession clawed its way out of the basement and up to extraordinary influence.

For nearly half a century rumpled theorists held the ear of politicians around the world. Their period of triumph ended in a fog of financial crisis, economic conflict and resurgent nationalism. Binyamin Appelbaum aims to focus public attention on the role of economists in the miasma’s descent. Now an editorial writer at the New York Times, he spent nearly a decade covering economics and economic policy in Washington. “The Economists’ Hour” is a work of journalism rather than polemic. It is a well reported and researched history of the ways in which plucky economists helped rewrite policy in America and Europe and across emerging markets. Some of the stories Appelbaum tells will be unfamiliar. He describes how economists inspired by Milton Friedman persuaded Richard Nixon to abandon military conscription in favor of an all-volunteer armed forces. Economists also managed to undercut American skepticism of big business. Now, the economists’ hour is nearing an end, creating room within the field for views that long struggled to get a hearing. In an age of nativism and protectionism, other ways of seeing the world predominate. It may be some time before the dismal science gets a chance to set things right.

ECONOMIST