Archive for October 10th, 2012

Having spent several years studying economics at a university, most graduates still find it hard to discuss properly current economic policies. This is due to the fact that the subject of economics today focuses mostly on abstract theories and estimation techniques. It mainly consists of mathematical formulas which describe models of limited practical use.

This is not to say that economic research does not deliver new insights into how an economy works. But rather that the study of economics often misses the bigger picture and lacks a profound analysis of various real-world economic policies.

Thomas Sowell has published a brilliant book that addresses this shortcoming:

Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell

In this book, Sowell discusses dozens of policy interventions and economic mechanisms. He does so without formulas, math, tables, or figures. Instead the reader finds plain English text, historical examples and common sense reasoning.

The fundamental theme that runs throughout the book is the definition of economics itself:

Economics is the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses.

Topic after topic, Sowell explains what this simple definition implies and how it contradicts many political statements:

However useful economics may be for understanding many issues, it is not as emotionally satisfying as more personal and melodramatic depictions of these issues often found in the media and in politics. Dry empirical questions are seldom as exciting as political crusades or ringing moral pronouncements. But empirical questions are questions that must be asked, if we are truly interested in the well-being of others, rather than in excitement or a sense of moral superiority for ourselves. Perhaps the most important distinction is between what sounds good and what works. The former may be sufficient for purposes of politics or moral preening, but not for the economic advancement of people in general or the poor in particular. For those who are willing to stop and think, basic economics provides some tools for evaluating policies and proposals in terms of their logical implications and empirical consequences.

While waiting for the delivery of your copy you may want to watch how Sowell himself discusses his book with Peter Robinson:

The problem is not that the profession has not reached a level of understanding. I think if the average citizen understood economics as well as it was understood by economists two hundred years ago, most of the nonsense that is done in Washington would be impossible politically.

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