Friday, March 1, 2013

Book Review–Basic Economics and Applied Economics

Economics is one of those subjects I never really had in school.  My high school did this kind of goofy thing where seniors took a semester of Government and a semester Economics, unless those students were in the smart-people classes.  Then they took a year of AP Government.  Whether or not AP Government was supposed to cover economics as well, I learned very little about anything other than Monica Lewinsky in that class, and certainly nothing about economics. 

So I went onto college – no econ there – and then off to the Peace Corps, and by the time I was in law school learning about economics in the context of Posner’s legal decisions, I’d learned enough to know that economics was this evil thing relied on by people lacking compassion.

Throughout years of talking with Mr. Trizzle, I slowly learned that I had the stereotype completely right and the reality completely wrong.  He recommended Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics as a good starting point for actually learning about the subject.  I loved it.

Basic Economics is a big book, but the language is clear and it makes for a relatively quick read.  Rather than breaking economics into the macro and micro divisions common with college courses on the subject, Sowell addresses the topic as a whole.  He begins with a brief introductory chapter and then explores seven different topic areas in depth.  At the end of each topic, there’s an excellent overview chapter, offering an even quicker read for those who need to go for a skim.

Throughout the book, Sowell presents both sides of debated issues, and when he tells his own preference, he explains why.  And, something I found very important, Sowell addresses the stereotypes and the concerns I’d had about economics.  He doesn’t presume rational actors and explains how things work presuming non-rational actors.  There’s also an entire section on non-economic values that looks at the interplay of people’s concerns outside of finances.

The book focuses on the action part of economics, how it works in day-to-day life.  If you’re looking for a history of economic theories, this is not the book for you – though it does have a nice reference list.

I really enjoyed the book, and I highly recommend it.  It’s one to get you thinking.


Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One is Sowell’s sequel to Basic Economics.  It’s a much slimmer volume that looks in-depth at specific sectors of the market: medical care, housing, business, immigration, etc.

I enjoyed the chapters on the Economic Development of Nations and Free and Unfree Labor, but overall found the book less engaging than its predecessor.   Sowell provides a good introduction to each of the sectors treated in the book and includes citations to other works that give more in-depth treatment.


munchkinhead said...

hmm perhaps i should read that, like you i have no basic knowledge.

goldenrail said...

Funny, I wanted to get it for you for Christmas but figured you'd just throw it at me or put it in the re-gift pile.