In a chance meeting, crossing between new town and old in the city of Portland, Oregon, economic writer Rand McGreal and French economist Jean Baptiste Say find themselves in commonality. Sitting to discuss their ideas, Say elaborates the ideas that made him notable, all the while answering the challenges and queries of the curious McGreal. Recording the encounter, McGreal has published his discussions in his new book: Killing an Idea: Exhuming Say’ Law, the second part of Rand McGreal’s Lost Economics series.
In a similar approach to the 90s breakout hit The Wealthy Barber, the book is something of an economist guide-through-fiction; the piece is, at its core, an explanation of macroeconomic theory, framed through an almost Gonzo style of writing about the author’s meeting with French economist Jean Baptiste Say. Being that the good Monsieur Say was alive and prominent in the early 1800s, the meeting McGreal describes is simply illustrative metaphor, using the late Say as a living character to discuss and bounce ideas off of in a more interesting manner than simply stating them outright, textbook style. This is in line with McGreal’s Lost Economics series, which “exhumes” forgotten theories with this almost Shakespearean approach of conversing with the dead.
The writing is engaging, fairly heavy at times, but flowing quite well considering the dense topic being dissected. The pitch is solid, the idea delivered with acumen, and the writing is clear and concise, predicted reader queries through McGreal the character. The book is nearly entirely speech, peppered with some very thoughtful description that adds a lot to the read, sometimes making me yearn for more as McGreal is obviously a versed writer. It’s hard to complain about the content, however, and the book really does what it sets out to do and more.
The book has its shortcomings, mostly in its presentation. Right off the bat, it’s clear to see what seems to be a vestigial apostrophe in the very title of the book (“Say’ Law”), which is reproduced across all instances of the work’s full title, save an inner title page. I have yet to find a justification for this and have to assume this is a very unfortunate mistake yet to be corrected. Considering the general quality of the text’s grammar from thereon is, in fact, quite good makes this a sad but nonetheless egregious aspect to point out. Similarly, the eye-catching painted cover is also an issue as the whole thing is clearly put together from a default template. It’s a final, missed hurdle on an otherwise strong performance.
Anyone interested in economic theory, especially in relation to Say and Keynes, will find this a much more copacetic and palatable piece on their ideas than probably any other out there. For others, especially casual readers, there’s little to be drawn from the experience, being that it truly is intended as an introduction to lesser-known macroeconomics, not a more traditional fiction. McGreal really does fulfill that purpose perfectly, and should be commended for it, but it’s fair warning that the book should not be approached with expectations of something else: something artistically or philosophically deeper, despite its brief forays into art, culture, and philosophy throughout.