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Why Read the Classics in Economics?

By Peter J. Boettke

"What if you believe that knowledge that was once held in our possession has been lost due to intellectual error or insufficient memory?" I have a fairly extensive economics library. The first book visible to all who walk into my home office is Mandeville's Fable of the Bees, followed by a collection of the writings of Hume, including both his Essays and The History of England. Right after Hume comes my collection of the works of Adam Smith and so on and so down the hall and around the room as we take a tour of the evolution through time of the "worldly philosophy" from moral science to social physics and back again as we come to the growing number of volumes on the last shelf which is devoted to the Collected Works of James M. Buchanan. Why hold such a collection of old books in economics? Perhaps one could infer that this reflects a passion for antiquarian books. But I am not a book collector. I do not look for first-editions in pristine condition. I prefer paperbacks to clot...

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