A Review of Albert O. Hirschmann: An Intellectual Biography

Originally published in The Independent Review

Albert Hirschman (1915–2012) was the noneconomists’ favorite economist. That title might have gone to John Kenneth Galbraith for intellectuals in the 1950s and 1960s, but since the 1970s Hirschman has worn the crown. He was the establishment intelligentsia’s sort of hero. He spent his formative years as an empirically grounded observer and adviser in the field of development economics. He had a left-wing youth of activism and courage fighting fascism in Europe—a left-wing youth that he never renounced but did quietly abandon once he was in the United States. His work was filled with wide-ranging reflections and sprinkled with philosophy and literature in multiple languages. Thus, it always appeared to be civilized, polite, and passionate yet checked. He was erudite and urbane. The perfect mix to stand in opposition to the free-market counterrevolution of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman as well as to the methodological revolution of microfoundations and economic imperialism. Hirschman was the economist that historians, philosophers, political scientists, and sociologists could trust.

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