• Cocktail and Dinner Party Economics
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  • Dinner Party Economics

The Economist for Everyman

A recent editor, Rupert Pennant-Rea, once described The Economist as “a Friday viewspaper, where the readers, with higher than average incomes, better than average minds but with less than average time, can test their opinions against ours. We try to tell the world about the world, to persuade the expert and reach the amateur, with an injection of opinion and argument.”  Taken fom The Economist In my introductory microeconomics class, I require  students to write a book review in the style of  The Economist. The Economist book reviews are so good that in many ways, once you have read the review you really don’t need to read the book–unless for pleasure of course!   These reviews provide an excellent basis on which to decide if a particular book is worth your time.  With respect to my class,  I am very  interested in reading the assignment because the book reviewed is Cocktail Party Economics.  (Both The Economist and Cocktail Party Economics are published by Pearson.) Here is my promise to the class–I won’t read the names of the authors so my students can truly write in the spirit of The Economist (authors are anonymous).  Opine away!    

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Economic Encyclopedism

Few  people would claim to know very much about economics, perhaps seeing it as a complex and esoteric subject with little relevance to their everyday lives.   Introduction to The Economics Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained by DK (with contributors and Niall Kishtainy acting as the consultant editor)   If I ever teach a course in the History of Economic Thought, I would use this book as a text.  I love the structure (I became a fan when I bought  the similar Philosophy Book) because it suits how I think. (In fact, my book Cocktail Party Economics: The big ideas and small talk about markets has a similar approach.)  The chapters are limited to one big idea,  with some pithy quotes from a famous economist.  I guess great minds do think alike!  I really loved their table of context (that’s right context not content) which puts that idea in historical perspective. Short and sweet.  Most ideas have a biography in a box of the famous economist who was the key thinker.  (Like the gossip columns in my book but mine are more gossipy.)  They also have a flow chart which outlines the main components of the point for a fast visual explanation.  If that isn’t clear, then old-fashioned paragraphs finish off the explanation.   Unlike my book, sections are colour coded with lovely photographs to complement the time of the idea’s genesis.  It is the kind of book you can read a chapter at a time and not worry about losing the plot.  If you read this book you will know more about Economics than most!    

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Everything you always wanted to know about Prosperity (but were afraid to ask)

It is precisely because there is so much poverty, hunger and illness that the world must be very careful not to get in the way of the things that have bettered so many lives already– the tools of trade, technology and trust, of specialization and exchange.  It is precisely because there is still so much further to go that those who offer counsels of despair or calls to slow down in the face of looming environmental disaster may be not only factually but morally wrong.   Matt Ridley in The Rational Optimist on page 354 This book had me at ‘feeding the nine billion’! I am a naturally optimistic person and The Rational Optimist: How Properity Evolves gives credence to my inclinations.  I have always thought that humans were capable of solving problems and this book hammers that nail  firmly in place. His basic thesis is as follows.  Humans have the ability to specialize and trade.  This allows more bang for an economic buck and we are never going back to pre-barter days.  Furthermore, since the advent of fast communication, ideas now have sex with one another resulting in an explosion of new technologies.  No DNA to slow things down. This fecundity is the reason so much of the world is better off than it was fifty years ago never mind one hundred years ago.  Except for a few cases of governmental disasters (for example the policies of (Mao,  Stalin, and Mugabe) the average human being would never trade places with their ancestors, even if that ancestor was very wealthy.  For the poor, things have gotten even better. This book is a must read for any leftwing person just so they know the arguments of free market types.

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