Originally published February 11, 1985
A TOAST to mark the appearance of his Economics: What: Went Wrong and Why and Some Things to Do About It began our very pleasant lunch the other day with George P. Brockway. Published by Harper & Row under the Cornelia and Michael Bessie imprint, the book grew out of, and to a large extent expands upon “The Dismal Science,” the popular alternate-
issue column Brockway started writing for us in January 1982. Pleased as we indeed are about that genesis, it also poses a problem. And it is a measure of this man-who in his book insists “economics is … a branch of ethics” – that we could engage him in a detached discussion of our views on the impropriety of reviewing works essentially derived from the pages of the magazine.
We would be remiss, however, if we therefore did not commend to your attention what Robert Heilbroner, in an advance comment on Economics, has described as “marvelously well written, a joy to read,” as well as “full of original and perceptive observations.” Brockway deftly draws on his better than 40 years as salesman, editor, president, and chairman of the board at W. W. Norton and Company before his retirement in December 1983 to deflate many of the assumptions commonly held by professional economists. Most significant, though, is the people-oriented philosophy that informs his thinking, which may be gleaned from the following in his opening chapter:
” .. .In the early 1980s, when upwards of 14 million men and women in the United States were unemployed, and there was much debate about whether we were in a recession or a depression, and how to end whatever it was, public attention was lavished on statistics supposed to indicate when recovery was finally under way. Among the ‘indicators,’ the rate of unemployment was understandably included. But this was, curiously, a’ lagging’ indicator. That is to say, standard economics held that something entitled to be called a recovery could be achieved leaving 6 or 8 or 10 per cent of our fellow citizens unemployed.
“An economics that is thus willing to disregard several million people will clearly differ in substantial ways from an economics that holds that full and just employment of men and women is the economic problem, and that a business recovery may be a means to that end, but certainly is not an end in itself.”
Guided by the same spirit, Brockway proceeds to offer several other ends, and the means for attaining them. Perhaps the most original dominates a chapter called “Property,”
bearing the subtitle “The Labor Theory of Right” – presented, as it happens (albeit in far too compressed fashion), in his column beginning on page 11.
Parting after lunch, we asked the former publisher turned author what he would be doing now. He responded, of course, that he had already started on a second book.
OUR COVERdrawing of AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland is by Claudia Fouse.
The New Leader
 Editor’s emPHAsis