I think of Specialization and Trade as an attempt to redirect economics away from the path that it followed after the second World War. This recently produced the following train of thought.
Who has been the most influential economist since 1945? I am inclined to go with Paul Samuelson, and that is implicit in the book. But some people might have said Milton Friedman. In neither case, do I think that the influence on academic economists was good. [somewhat related: Tyler Cowen’s simple theory of recent intellectual history, which he apparently still propounds]
With the public, their impact differed. Friedman argued that people should admire markets and be wary of government. Samuelson said it the other way around. Those of us who agree with Friedman approve of Friedman’s influence. Those who agree with Samuelson disapprove of Friedman’s influence.
Back to academic economists. I think that both Friedman and Samuelson were guilty of promoting economic methods that involved imitating hard science (at least as they thought of science as being practiced). Instead, in my book I argue that economic analysis can yield frameworks of interpretation, but economic hypotheses are not verifiable the way that they are in chemistry or physics.
In macroeconomics, Friedman enjoyed influence starting in the 1970s, because the Solow-Samuelson Phillips Curve broke down and Friedman’s alternative view that emphasized monetary policy seemed to work better. However, my view is that both monetarism and Keynesianism are misleading as interpretive frameworks.
In fact, what started out as monetarism ultimately degenerated into deity-worship of the Fed chairman. First it was Paul Volcker, who slew the dragon of inflation. Then it was Alan Greenspan, the Maestro of the Great Moderation. Until in hindsight he became the Randian ideologue, who turned the banks loose to create a financial crisis. The crisis came on Ben Bernanke’s watch, and he is deified as the man who saved us from another Great Depression.
I think that the effect of each of those three on the economy is vastly over-rated. Instead, I think that financial markets and the economy in general simply took the course that they took, and story-tellers wrongly attribute the outcomes to the policies of the Fed at the time.