More Heat than Light by Philip Mirowski
  • Title: More Heat than Light
  • Subtitle: Economics as Social Physics, Physics as Nature's Economics
  • Author(s): Philip Mirowski
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Year: 1991-11-29
  • ISBN-10: 0521426898
  • ISBN-13: 9780521426893


“More Heat than Light” by Philip Mirowski is a critical examination of the history and methodology of economic thought, focusing on the development of neoclassical economics and its impact on modern economic theory. Mirowski argues that neoclassical economics has evolved into a powerful ideological force, often prioritizing mathematical models and formalism over empirical evidence and real-world applicability. He traces the roots of neoclassical economics back to the late 19th century and provides a thorough critique of its foundational assumptions and methodologies, shedding light on the inherent limitations and biases within the discipline.

Throughout the book, Mirowski delves into the intricate interplay between economics, politics, and philosophy, highlighting how economic ideas have been used to shape public policy and influence society. He questions the role of economists as social engineers and challenges the claim that economics is a purely value-neutral science. By offering a historical perspective and examining the intellectual evolution of economic thought, “More Heat than Light” provides readers with a deeper understanding of the underlying factors that have shaped modern economic theory and its implications for public discourse and policymaking.

Book Review

“More Heat than Light: Economics as Social Physics, Physics as Nature’s Economics” by Philip Mirowski is a compelling and thorough critique of the history, methodology, and ideology of neoclassical economics. Mirowski presents a highly academic and scholarly examination of economic thought, challenging the dominant neoclassical paradigm and revealing the inherent biases and limitations within the discipline. Through extensive research and historical analysis, the author dissects the evolution of economic theory, exposing its close ties to physics and its reliance on mathematical formalism, often at the expense of empirical evidence and real-world applicability.

One of the central arguments in the book revolves around the notion of economics as a form of social physics. Mirowski demonstrates how neoclassical economists, inspired by the success of physics in the early 20th century, sought to emulate its methods, leading to the development of mathematical models and formalism as the primary tools of economic analysis. He highlights examples of economists like Paul Samuelson and Kenneth Arrow, who applied mathematical techniques to economics, aiming to create a “unified field theory” similar to physics. However, Mirowski criticizes this approach, pointing out that economics deals with complex social phenomena that cannot be easily quantified or reduced to mathematical equations, leading to potential misinterpretations and oversimplifications of economic reality.

Moreover, Mirowski explores the role of economics in shaping public policy and society. He argues that economists have often acted as social engineers, using their expertise to influence policymakers and promote particular ideologies. The book discusses the neoliberal turn in economic thinking, exemplified by figures like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, who advocated for free-market policies and deregulation. Mirowski questions the moral implications of these policies, suggesting that neoclassical economics, with its emphasis on rational self-interest and market efficiency, can lead to detrimental societal consequences, such as income inequality and environmental degradation.

“More Heat than Light” is a dense and comprehensive book that delves deep into the history and philosophy of economic thought. While its academic nature may be daunting to some readers, those with a keen interest in understanding the intellectual foundations of modern economics will find it a highly rewarding read. Mirowski’s critique challenges economists and policymakers to reevaluate the assumptions and methodologies underpinning economic theory and to consider the broader societal implications of economic policies. In conclusion, the book’s meticulous analysis and thought-provoking arguments make it an indispensable resource for those seeking a more nuanced understanding of economics as a discipline and its impact on society.

Word Count: 408

Target Audience

“More Heat than Light” by Philip Mirowski is a meticulously researched and thought-provoking examination of the history and methodology of economic thought, with a focus on the development and dominance of neoclassical economics. This book is targeted at academics, economists, policymakers, and advanced students in the field of economics, offering a comprehensive analysis of the discipline’s intellectual evolution and the societal impact of economic ideologies.

  • Academics and Economists Academics and economists are the primary target audience for “More Heat than Light” due to its in-depth exploration of the historical foundations of economic thought. Mirowski’s critical analysis of neoclassical economics challenges conventional paradigms and encourages academics to reevaluate their approaches to economic research. The book delves into the intricacies of economic theory, making it an essential resource for scholars seeking to understand the historical context and philosophical underpinnings that have shaped modern economic thinking.

  • Policymakers Policymakers will find “More Heat than Light” to be a relevant and insightful read as it sheds light on the interplay between economics and public policy. Mirowski’s examination of the ideological influences on economic thought can help policymakers make more informed decisions about economic policy and its implications for society. By understanding the historical development of economic ideas and the impact of neoclassical economics on public discourse, policymakers can be better equipped to craft evidence-based and socially responsible economic policies.

  • Advanced Students of Economics Advanced students pursuing degrees in economics or related fields can benefit significantly from “More Heat than Light” as it challenges their understanding of economic theory and introduces them to alternative perspectives. The book’s comprehensive analysis of economic thought offers students the opportunity to critically engage with the complexities and historical context of the discipline. By grappling with the book’s intricate arguments, students can develop a deeper appreciation for the nuances of economic theory and enhance their capacity for critical thinking and research in the field.

In conclusion, “More Heat than Light” is highly recommended reading for those seeking a comprehensive and critical examination of economic thought. It is an essential resource for academics and economists, encouraging them to question established paradigms and explore the broader societal implications of economic ideologies. Policymakers will gain valuable insights into the historical influences on economic policy, helping them to craft more informed and socially responsible approaches. Advanced students of economics will find the book intellectually stimulating, enhancing their understanding of the discipline and honing their critical thinking skills. Overall, “More Heat than Light” is a must-read for anyone with a genuine interest in the historical and philosophical foundations of economic thought and its impact on society.