Monday, 23 October 2017

Book Review: The Instant Economist

Tim Taylor's The Conversable Economist blog is one of several blogs that I wish I read more often. I usually find it quite insightful and interesting, but for whatever reason I have never added it to my feed. Perhaps I should, especially after reading his 2012 book, The Instant Economist. The book is essentially a Principles of Economics text dressed up as a paperback pop economics book. In the introduction, Taylor describes his hope for the book that it:
...will impart a working understanding of both micro- and macroeconomics, not enough to prepare you for setting up your own economic forecasting business, but enough that you can read and speak about economics topics with greater confidence and conviction.
Mostly, the book succeeds in this goal. It is more readable that a standard economics textbook, and uses interesting examples to illustrate the concepts. It doesn't get too bogged down in theory, and mostly Taylor avoids using diagrams (although an obligatory supply-and-demand diagram or two did sneak their way in!). It's also much more affordable than an undergraduate economics textbook (more on that in a future post).

Highlights of the book include the chapters on money and banking, and corporate and political governance - the latter being a topic that isn't covered in much detail at all in your standard economics textbook. It also has some great quotes, like this one from the chapter on economic growth:
Saying that globalization creates poverty is kind of like saying that exercise makes you overweight because you don't do it. If you're not participating, then the activity in which you are not participating is probably not causing the problem, either.
I guess that must be one of his pet hates. And unfortunately, Taylor's book runs into one or two of my own. Globalisation and trade are not synonymous, but the book treats them almost interchangeably. Trade in goods and services is just one aspect of a wider interconnectedness that characterises globalisation. Health and education are not public goods, because public goods are non-rival (one person's use doesn't reduce the amount available for everyone else) and non-excludable (a person cannot be prevented from consuming the good or service). Health and education are both rival (because doctors and teachers don't have unlimited attention to spend on patients and students respectively) and excludable (you really can exclude people from healthcare and education). I'm not convinced on his characterisation of a negative income tax either.

But those gripes aside, this is an excellent book for someone who doesn't know any economics and wants a primer that will help them to understand a good range of key concepts and topics that they may encounter. It probably won't be much use for a current or former economics student, but might be an interesting read if you want a refresher on things you learned in your economics degree but haven't touched since then.

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