More Heat Than Light

Economics as Social Physics, Physics as Nature's Economics

Phil Mirowski

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Book Synopsis

"More Heat Than Light" by Phil Mirowski delves into the intricate relationship between economics and physics, unraveling the historical intertwining of the two disciplines. Mirowski challenges the prevailing narrative that economics is a science by examining its foundations and tracing its roots to the mechanistic worldview of 19th-century physics and thermodynamics.

The book explores the influence of key figures such as Walras, Jevons, and Marshall on economic theory, revealing how they sought to legitimize economics by borrowing concepts from physics. Drawing parallels between the emerging field of economics and the physics of the time, Mirowski uncovers the underlying assumptions that have shaped economic thinking.

By dissecting the mathematical models and metaphors employed in economic theory, Mirowski demonstrates how economists have tried to align their discipline with the perceived legitimacy and precision of physics. However, he argues that these efforts have led to a misguided and reductionist understanding of both economics and physics, obscuring the inherent complexities of both fields.

Furthermore, Mirowski critically scrutinizes the concept of equilibrium, a central tenet of orthodox economics, and exposes its dubious connections to thermodynamics. He explores the dubious use of mathematical techniques such as statistical mechanics, network theory, and game theory in economics, highlighting their limitations and their inadequate depiction of economic systems.

With meticulous research and incisive analysis, Mirowski presents a compelling argument against the reductionist and mechanical approach of economics that has neglected the social and political dynamics inherent to the field. "More Heat Than Light" offers a powerful critique of the attempts to establish economics as a "hard" science, cautioning against the oversimplification of complex social phenomena and emphasizing the importance of interdisciplinarity and critical engagement in the pursuit of economic understanding.

In concise yet thorough fashion, Mirowski illuminates the historical and intellectual context in which economics emerged, shedding light on its failures and offering insights for a more comprehensive and nuanced approach. "More Heat Than Light" is an essential read for economists, physicists, and anyone interested in the deep connections between these two disciplines, urging us to question, reflect, and reconceptualize the foundations of economic thought.

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