Economics: the learning begins

It’s less than a month until I start my course. I have the timetable more or less worked out now and have started investigating the reading list.

Since I applied for the course I’ve been trying to do a bit of reading around economics – this is an area I’ve never formally studied before. I’ve listened to quite a few audio books whilst out walking the dog. These are not necessarily the best way to take everything in but it’s amazing what stays their only to reappear as understanding later on.  I’ve read Economics for Dummies via Kindle and am half way through The Secret life of money. I also really enjoyed Flash Boys by Michael Lewis. Not strictly about economics but an incredibly readable expose of high frequency trading in the US and an illustration of how ‘the market’, so beloved of some economists, has gone feral.

In term one at Erasmus University, (September & October), I will be doing a course on Introduction to Economic Theory. Last year the standard text for this course was Economics by Paul Krugman and Robin Wells. I managed to get a second hand copy for £15 as a new one would have cost me £60/€85. I thought that even though it is no longer the set text, I’d get something from it. It arrived while I was away. Sue opened it and commented that she was concerned about my baggage allowance. It’s a weighty tome.

This year there is a new mandatory set text that I have swallowed up. I was a little nervous, wrongly it now seems, that Erasmus University might be a little conservative for me.

2015-08-05 18.07.30The set text is by a modern hero. South Korean, Cambridge Professor, Ha-Joon Chang. Economics: The Users Guide. It’s a Pelican book. I remember rows of Pelican books when my Mum was doing her MA. It’s a beautiful piece of design – simple, classic with embossed lettering on the front. It’s easy to hold and wonderful to read. It is by far the clearest of all the books I’ve consumed so far on the subject. Chang is no neoclassical economist. George Osborne will not be sending this book out as Christmas presents.

One thing that has become clear in all my reading is that it is unfair to judge, (most), historical economists with hindsight. Darling of the free market right, Adam Smith was writing in a very different time to the one we’re living in. sometimes history imposes a mishmash of scale onto a point of view.  We shall never know what Adam Smith’s view of economics would have been if he were writing today. Chang argues that perhaps Marxism, (as written by Karl Marx , not as practiced) is a clearer heir to Adam Smith than Neoclassicism. Even liberal economist, John Maynard Keynes, (who as well as being the twentieth century’s most important economist was also the founder of what became Arts Council England), came up with his theories in a different economic age. An age before computers, the Euro, investment bankers and traders going feral. He acknowledged the rate of technological innovation and that things should be revised each generation – indeed he felt that twelve years was a good generational turn over time for ideas.

I’ve swallowed Chang’s book, loved the clarity of the writing and agree with most of his points of view. That is not to say it hasn’t depressed me a bit. It has reinforced, with evidence, my view that the UK is firmly in the wrong economic groove.

I’ve not yet read the large Krugman & Wells tome though will dip in with interests. In Economics: The Users Guide, Chang describes Krugman as a left of centre Neoclassical Economist. I’ve still got to get my head round that one. I’ve still got a lot to learn about Economics but am really looking forward to the journey

Audio Books that I’ve listened to

What you need to know about Economics by George Buckley & Sumeet Desai

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt (A famous classic primer but not from an economics school that I want to belong to. Incredibly patronising too)

Man vs. Markets: Economics Explained (Plain and Simple) by Paddy Hirsch

The Making of Modern Economics: The Lives and Ideas of the Great Thinkers by Mark Skousen (Really interesting stuff – again from an American writer with a Republican sensibility – but once you get over that, really engaging)

I am half way through

The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City By Elizabeth Currid (I’m struggling with the tone of the narrator. I also feel that Currid is trying to find a new way each chapter to make the same point. New York’s cultural economy is built on networking and socialising)

Universal Man: The Seven Lives of John Maynard Keynes by Richard Davenport -Hines I’m enjoying this. It is about the man, not economics though naturally they are intrinsically linked. It is also interesting to see Keynes portrayed in the excellent Current BBC Drama mini series about the Bloomsbury Group, Life in Squares

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