Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Economics for People Who Hate Capitalism

If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of time (probably too much time) searching for the perfect introductory guide to economics, something to recommend to people who are interested in learning more about the subject or who, in your own arrogant opinion, would benefit from learning more about the subject. Such a book, to be ideal, would have to meet two criteria:

1) It would have to set forth the sometimes difficult and/or counter-intuitive ideas of economics in a way that is compelling and easy to understand (yet not overly simplistic); and

2) It must be a book that people will actually read.

Sadly, finding a book that meets these criteria is harder than it might appear. I’ve looked at plenty of contenders, but virtually every book I’ve come across has had some major drawback or flaw. Either it’s too technical, or too dated, or it leaves too much out, or most of it is excellent, but there is one part that will turn off anyone who reads it so thoroughly as to nullify any effect the rest of the book might have.

After viewing this episode of Bloggingheads, I’m considering making Filthy Lucre: Economics for People Who Hate Capitalism my standard recommendation, at least for people who are broadly speaking left-of-center. The book’s author, Joseph Heath, is a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto, student of Charles Taylor, expert on Habermas, and author of The Efficient Society: Why Canada is as Close to Utopia as it Gets and The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture. Heath is no one’s idea of a right-winger, but he also acknowledges that a lot of arguments made by the left are premised on a faulty understanding of how the economy can and does work.

The book is organized around ten fallacies or myths associated with economics, five of which are common on the left, and five of which are common on the right. Given that the book is aimed more at those on the left, spending half your time talking about absurd arguments for tax cuts might seem like a waste of time, but implicit bargain behind the format seems to be that if you’ll sit through a lecture on how some of your cherished political beliefs are incoherent you’ll get to hear about how your political opponents’ economic beliefs are just as nonsensical. From what I can tell, the ultimate goal of the book is to take people with the politics of Naomi Klein, and transform them into people with the politics of Paul Krugman, which while from my perspective is still far from ideal, is still an improvement.

Of course, it’s dangerous to recommend a book you haven’t read, and I’m not unaware of the possibility that the only reason I can recommend the book is because I have not read it. However, I am about two thirds of the way through The Efficient Society, which seems to cover a lot of the same ground, and based on that plus the Bloggingheads episode linked above, I think I can give the book at least a provisional thumbs up. The main problem, for the time being, seems to be that the book is only available in Canada. Perhaps I can stock up on copies at Indigo the next time I head north to see the Bard in action. Or more likely I can just wait for it to make its way south.

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May 1, 2009 - Posted by | Capitalism, Economics

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