Top 20 Heterodox Economics Books

28 Feb, 2014 at 12:04 | Posted in Economics | 29 Comments

Top 20 KC Cafe Radio Logo

  • Karl Marx, Das Kapital (1867)
  • Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)
  • Joseph Schumpeter, The Theory of Economic Development (1911)
  • Nikolai Kondratiev, The Major Economic Cycles (1925)
  • Gunnar Myrdal, The Political Element in the Development of Economic Theory (1930)
  • John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory (1936)
  • Paul Sweezy, Theory of Capitalist Development (1956)
  • Joan Robinson, Accumulation of Capital (1956)
  • John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society (1958)
  • Piero Sraffa, Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities (1960)
  • Johan Åkerman, Theory of Industrialism (1961)
  • Axel Leijonhufvud, Keynes and the Classics (1969)
  • Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, The Entropy Law and the Economic Process (1971)
  • Michal Kalecki, Selected Essays on the Dynamics of the Capitalist Economy (1971)
  • Paul Davidson, Money and the Real World (1972)
  • Hyman Minsky, John Maynard Keynes (1975)
  • Philip Mirowski, More Heat than Light (1989)
  • Tony Lawson, Economics and Reality (1997)
  • Steve Keen, Debunking Economics (2001)
  • John Quiggin, Zombie Economics (2010)


  1. Before Marx are Adam Smith and David Ricardo and they put theory economic base such as Marx did develop. Principal error of Smith and Ricardo is neglecting plusvalue in international and colonial commerce. Ricardo stablish this as especializing some in manufacturing and others in prime matter. Marx accept this.

  2. What the 20 top heterodox economists say

    In its present state, economics is unsatisfactory. Most economists can agree with this, albeit for different reasons. It is not surprising then that blaming and debunking flourish. Not much can be said against this, except that it is a detour. As Schumpeter, one of the 20 top heterodox economists already noted:

    “If we feel misgivings nevertheless, all we have to do is to start appropriate research. Anything else is pure filibustering.” (1994, p. 577)

    So, what is urgently needed is a paradigm shift. Is Heterodoxy heeding Schumpeter’s advice? What can be seen all around resembles nothing so much as pure filibustering.

    The two criteria of science are material and formal consistency. The latter is guaranteed by the axiomatic-deductive method. What does Georgescu-Roegen, one of the 20 top heterodox economists, say about axiomatization (= arithmetization in his terminology)?

    “Lest this position is misinterpreted again by some casual reader, let me repeat that my point is not that arithmetization of science is undesirable. Whenever arithmetization can be worked out, its merits are above all words of praise. My point is that wholesale arithmetization is impossible, that there is valid knowledge even without arithmetization, and that mock arithmetization is dangerous if peddled as genuine.” (Georgescu-Roegen, 1971, p. 15)

    Repeat: the merits of axiomatization are above all words of praise (if properly applied, of course, which is not the case with Orthodoxy).

    Tony Lawson, also one of the 20 top heterodox economists, on the other hand does not get tired since 17 years of characterizing deductivism as the main culprit of all that went wrong in economics. “In his seminal book Economics and Reality Tony Lawson traced this irrelevance to the failure of economists to match their deductive-axiomatic methods with their subject.” (see Lars P. Syll

    It would be helpful to learn who of the two top heterodox economists is right on methodology.

    We can agree that the axioms of Orthodoxy are uncertain and false. This fully explains its failure. But what about the premises and the formal consistency of Heterodoxy?

    The profit theories of Marx, Schumpeter, Keynes, Kalecki, Davidson, Minsky, Keen, all on the list of the 20 top heterodox economists, are demonstrably false (2014; 2011a; 2011c; 2011b; 2013b). Despite the obvious fact that they cannot all be correct at the same time, all are propagated under the banner of pluralism as heterodox alternatives. As it happens, they are all different AND false. Real scientists would feel the need to clear up this internal contradiction and not to hail it as freedom of opinion.

    Is the heterodox understanding of economic reality much better than what has come down to us as orthodox confusion (2013a)?

    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

    Georgescu-Roegen, N. (1971). The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

    Kakarot-Handtke, E. (2011a). Schumpeter and the Essence of Profit. SSRN Working Paper Series, 1845771: 1–26. URL

    Kakarot-Handtke, E. (2011b). What is Wrong With Heterodox Economics?
    Kalecki’s Profit Theory as an Example. SSRN Working Paper Series, 1845803:
    1–9. URL

    Kakarot-Handtke, E. (2011c). Why Post Keynesianism is Not Yet a Science. SSRN
    Working Paper Series, 1966438: 1–15. URL

    Kakarot-Handtke, E. (2013a). Confused Confusers: How to Stop Thinking Like
    an Economist and Start Thinking Like a Scientist. SSRN Working Paper Series,
    2207598: 1–16. URL

    Kakarot-Handtke, E. (2013b). Debunking Squared. SSRN Working Paper Series,
    2357902: 1–5. URL

    Kakarot-Handtke, E. (2014). Profit for Marxists. SSRN Working Paper Series,
    2414301: 1–25. URL

    Schumpeter, J. A. (1994). History of Economic Analysis. New York, NY: Oxford
    University Press.

  3. I would humbly suggest adding (I don’t know what to replace): Samuel Bowles, Richard Edwards, and Frank Roosevelt (yours truly), UNDERSTANDING CAPITALISM: Competition, Command, and Change (Oxford University Press, 2005). IMHO, this is the only heterodox INTRODUCTORY TEXTBOOK out there.

  4. Although the conclusions are somewhat conservative, I think Douglass North’s Institutional Change and Economic Growth should be on here. It’s not a book, but Coase’s “Theory of the Firm.”

  5. Henry George’s Progress and Poverty, published in the late 1800’s, is missing. All of the economic crashes that have occurred in the last 150 years, as well as the extreme concentration of wealth and income in the developed world over the last 50 years, is explained in P&P. As a former econ major I’ve read many of the books on the “Top 20” list and none of them explains the economic factor of land better than George, and none gives as coherent an explanation of what society needs to do to achieve a more stable, economic system: reduce taxes on labor and replace the tax revenue with higher taxes on land and natural resources.

    Even after years studying econ at the U of California I learned more about “real world” economics 10 years after I graduated in P&P than I learned in all the books we read in college, including Wealth of Nations, Das Kapital, The Great Transformation, Road to Serfdom and other econ “classics.”.

    If anyone is *really* interested in “real world” economics and curious about solutions to the present day economic conundrums, read Progress and Poverty.

  6. Lars: shouldn’t the Leijonhufvud be On *Keynesian Economics and The Economics of Keynes* ?

  7. I would like to suggest:
    * Death of Economics by Paul Omerod
    *SCHELLING T C (1978) Micromotives and macrobehavior. New York: Norton.

  8. Might I suggest Zombie Ec is replaced by David Harvey’s The Enigma of Capital? It’s rather a lot more interesting on the historical and political fronts, while Quiggin’s methodological points are already amply covered by Keen’s work. Moreover, Enigma has the benefit of teaching its readers to appreciate the importance of understanding developments in terms of relational networks, which is important because of the way politicians and others often use economic “analysis”, and problematic metrics (FDI, GDP, tax/interest/exchange rates, etc.), to argue that their pet projects will improve some economic measure.
    If, instead, political economics would be more strongly focused on analyzing societal changes insofar as they relate to changes in organizational form/tech innovation/etc., it would be much harder to distract from or forget the fact that economic development is only one of the ways in which you can analyze societal functioning, and that there isn’t a causal link between economic development and societal improvement. This could be as ‘simple’ a change as changing institutional focus from a corporation/factory to the community in which it exists — thus looking not only at efficiency, ebitda, profits, but also at the wages it brings to the community, the fact that people are employed and will thus (assuming they aren’t maltreated at work) feel more useful, have more opportunities at making new friends and generally interacting with others, etc. — or as vague as moving away from reporting “GDP” numbers because of the way in which it excludes the value of written-off but functional goods, untaxed work, free time/time for volunteer work, and many other things.

    • And GDP numbers are also problematic for what they include – such as the so-called contribution of the banking sector. Yves Smith has a post on this today. Duncan Foley also questioned whether GDP is inflated by the rent-seeking of the financial sector.

      • We had to change from GNP to GDP due to the distortionary reporting in GNP. We had to get rid of the Soviet-era accounting measure of production (what was it called?) for similar reasons.

        I think we have to now throw out GDP as well, thanks to the manipulations such as the ones Yves Smith documented whereby fictional numbers are imputed into the financial sector.

        Steel production, grain production, carloads of freight transported: these were the measurements in 1929, and frankly they’re a lot less fudgeable.

  9. […] Top 20 Heterodox Economics Books Lars P. Syll […]

  10. Fernand Braudel is a good candidate to be in this list and some of his books

  11. “Wealth of Nations” is missing 😉

    • WoN heterodox?

      • I would say yes. Political economy is heterodox and cannot be more different than the axiomatic-deductive, asocial and ahistorical paradigm of mainstream economics. Of course, the trap is that these economists invented the history of their own discipline by creating a linear evolution from Smith, through Jevons, Menger, Walras, Keynes, Arrow and Debreu, then Samuelson and Lucas, presenting the construction of a True Science, open to criticisms and reaching magnificent “synthesis” as states of normal science. But of course, most of them actually never read “Wealth of Nations” and think that the little passage with the butcher, the brewer and the baker is all there is to know in a book of about 900 pages.

        • I would agree Smith is definitely not orthodox. Classical political economy is not the same thing as the neoclassical orthodoxy. The 1870 “marginal revolution” was a perversion. Marx can be seen as part of the classical lineage from Smith

        • “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

          Yeah, it’s pretty heterodox. Both for its time period and subsequently. The orthodoxy was created by those who wished to excuse this sort of conspiracy.

          “With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches, which in their eye is never so complete as when they appear to possess those decisive marks of opulence which nobody can possess but themselves. ”
          Veblen followed up on this.

          “Monopoly of one kind or another, indeed, seems to be the sole engine of the mercantile system. ”
          Our elite monopolists don’t like to talk about this, so the orthodoxy tries to ignore it.

          “It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”
          First advocate of progressive taxation.

          “Every tax, however, is to the person who pays it a badge, not of slavery but of liberty. It denotes that he is a subject to government, indeed, but that, as he has some property, he cannot himself be the property of a master.”
          If we could get rich people to have this attitude… honestly, we’d be set. But they don’t have that attitude right now.

          The “orthodox” tradition completely cherry-picks Adam Smith.

  12. Why do you call the top 20 “heterodox” when it actually is the main line in this very unscientific branch of human activity called “Economics”? 🙂
    Also, your readers seem to want a top 200 instead, including every personal favorite of their own.
    Me, I only need a top 1 “list”, and it is already on position one in yours…

  13. I’m surprised it doesn’t include Albert Hirschman’s ‘Strategy of Economic Development’, a book that turned the balanced growth theory on its head – and rightly so

  14. Why is Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation not on the list?.

    • A great book, but which one has to leave then?

      • Zombie economics and replace roegen’s book with Maurice Dobb’s “The Political Economy of Capitalism” and possibly add EK Hunt’s “Property and Prophets”, Baran & Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital, Kaldor’s “The Scourge of Moneterism”, Fred Lee’s “History of Heterodox Economics”, and Goffrey Ingham’s “The Nature of Money”, so make it top 25! 🙂

      • Oh and Massimo Pivetti’s “An Essay on Money and Distribution” and Mongiovi, G. and Petri F. (eds.), Value, Distribution and capital. Essays in honor of Pierangelo Garegnani” 🙂

  15. I think that “the 7 deadly inoocent frauds of Economic policy” by Warren Mosler should be included, It’s the map of modern monetary systems

    • Sorry, “innocent”

  16. The reading of these 20 books is far more valuable than 10 years of education and an entire career in mainstream economics. One has no chance to understand our socio-economic environment with the help of this stupid paradigm. Fortunately, this list reminds us the existence of true gems, written by some of the greatest economists, a lot of them in the tradition of what was once known as political economy.
    Merci prof. Syll!

  17. Again, I really recommend ‘Economics: A New Introduction’ by Hugh Stretton.

  18. i would place the “Capital” of Thomas Piketty…

    • Piketty’s “Capital” is not heterodox. It uses mainstream conceptualizations of long run growth coming straight from Solow, for example.

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