Book Review: John Komlos, Foundations of Real-World Economics: What Every Economics Student Needs to Know

Date01 August 2021
AuthorBenjamin Balak
Publication Date01 August 2021
SubjectCommissioned Book Reviews
Political Studies Review
2021, Vol. 19(3) NP3 –NP4
Commissioned Book Review
909076PSW0010.1177/1478929920909076Political Studies ReviewCommissioned Book Review
Commissioned Book Review
Foundations of Real-World Economics: What
Every Economics Student Needs to Know,
2nd edn by John Komlos. New York: Routledge,
2019, 306pp., $175, ISBN 9781138296527.
In the second edition to this book, John Komlos
updates some of the developments in the econ-
omy over the intermittent 5 years and engages
with the changes in the discipline of economics
in response to accumulating dissatisfaction with
its ability to predict or explain real-world cir-
cumstances, as well as the lack of adjustments
and consequent irrelevance of most undergradu-
ate economics education. The result is an invalu-
able tool for a pertinent and pragmatic internal
criticism of the orthodox undergraduate econom-
ics curriculum. While neither a heterodox nor a
pluralistic account of economics, that is perhaps
what allows it to focus on the internal criticism
of neoclassical economics. The book further nar-
rows in on the neglected issue of the discrepancy
between current economic scholarship and the
simplistic, methodologically flawed, outdated,
and irrelevant economics we too often teach
The book is a great introduction to what is
wrong with current neoclassical economics for
many economists who have never been intro-
duced to even internal criticisms of the ortho-
doxy. Specifically, one of the common barriers
to revising the economics curriculum is that so
few economists are trained in any heterodox
approaches. One of the cornerstones of a suc-
cessful curricular reform is a common reading
all faculty members can agree upon, and this
book could serve this purpose splendidly.
Providing a strong description of the problems
in the traditional undergraduate curriculum,
while prescribing a broad approach to a solu-
tion that leaves space for diverse perspectives,
makes this book pragmatically suited to be an
important element in reforming the orthodox
Komlos introduces many methodological
issues plaguing mainstream economics and
develops them directly from the discipline’s
failures in both describing the 2008 financial
crisis and prescribing policies addressing its
consequences. This is exactly what the book’s
title promises, and it is accomplished in less
than 300 pages in a manner accessible to
undergraduates. The most technical part of the
book uses simple calculus in graphic form to
discuss utility theory and would be considered
appropriate for students with introductory level
knowledge. Instructors could easily adapt it to
different levels, though the best curricular fit
could be as a critical reflection upon the tradi-
tional theories students are typically expected
to master in intermediate-level undergraduate
In producing an accessible critique of the
undergraduate economics curriculum specifi-
cally directed at economics students, and
remaining focused on current issues and what
is actually taught in the vast majority of institu-
tions, Komlos adds an important dimension to
the argument about economics education that
has been raging for some time well before the
crisis of 2008 and that has not been seriously
addressed. He stands remarkably alone in com-
plaining that economists do not teach under-
graduates the neoclassical economics being
done in graduate schools and thus do not do
justice even to the orthodoxy, let alone the plu-
rality of economic ideas.
Komlos chooses not to mention potentially
relevant heterodox schools of thought, or pre-
sent the fundamental disagreements between
contending economic schools of thought, but
does indeed provide discussions, including
about how power plays a role in real-world
economics and how there are multiple ways
monopolies can withstand competition, to
name just a few. However, he refrains from
delving into the theoretical and historical argu-
ments, instead remaining anchored in the 2008
financial crisis and aftermath in order to pro-
vide a highly accessible yet sophisticated non-
ideological description of the discourse as it is

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