Weirdly enough, here's David Prychitko talking about Giovanni Arrighi's Adam Smith in Beijing in a blog post, which definitely argues for my being embarrassed at having never heard of the guy. I trust Prychitko's judgment about Marxist thinkers, so what does he say about Arrighi's book?
It is challenging, and he does have interesting and even fruitful things to say about the importance of decentralized, spontaneous development at the local level. But I'm unimpressed with the concepts of natural and unnatural [economic development], as if history follows, or can be expected to follow, such a course.
As far as I can tell, the main point of the book relies on the distinction Prychitko rejects. So I guess I'm still not embarrassed.
I wonder if the n+1 guys have read much or any William Robert Fogel, Douglass North, Joel Mokyr, Avner Greif, or Acemoglu and Robinson — that kind of thing. One of the attractive features of intellectual life throughout much of last century was the sense of a common canon. But as intellectual specialization has developed, it has become harder for literary or philosophical intellectuals to stay abreast of developments in history, psychology, and the social sciences. I think that's why I come away with an impression of erudite incompetence when I read something like a Tony Judt essay. The paradigm of the public intellectual has shifted and continues to shift away from Susan Sontag types toward Steven Pinker types, and this must be frustrating for those of us who still feel the allure of the old-timey New York literary intellectual who pops into gallery openings between psychotherapy sessions and lively coffee-house debates about “mass culture” or the elusive American class structure. Would Harold Rosenberg have kept up with the Journal of Economic Perspectives and Behavioral and Brain Sciences? Probably not. And that's probably why our latter-day Harold Rosenbergs matter less than Tyler Cowen.