Book Review: What Is Economics?

What Is Economics?:  An Guide To The World Of Supply And Demand, by Dan Smith

As far as introductory guides to economics go, this is not a terrible book [1].  In seeking to be all things to all people and giving a very wide overview of views and schools of thought within economics, the author attempts to hide his own worldview and perspective in order to give the appearance of being fair and impartial.  Even so, there is a pervasive bias in this book in favor of leftist views of economics that strikes this reader as immensely irksome.  Whether the discussion is matters of orthodox versus heterodox economic thought, or his hopeful comments about the comeback of Marxist and Keynesian economics in light of the Great Recession, this is an author who barely disguises his admiration for leftist views of economics, which gives this book an agenda that its somewhat superficial treatment of economics cannot fully overcome.  This book is not an active waste of time to read, but it is the sort of book that must be read with considerable caution, as it is a book that has an ax to grind in favor of “progressive” causes, including the excesses of feminist economics and other such matters, which this book dutifully covers.

In terms of its contents, this slightly less than 200 page book contains seven chapters that show a near-contemporary fellow traveler’s view of economics.  The book begins with a question of what economics is, looking at its origins, notions like utility and scarcity and the distinction between macro- and micro-economics, and the importance of the subject.  After that the author asks what is behind economic activity, examining Markets, the types of economics, sustainability, economic bubbles, and even matters of wealth, accounting, and forecasting.  The third chapter finds the author asking about how commerce works, with a look at the legitimacy of government interference, Marxian economics, the economics of scale, game theory, and Pareto efficiency among the topics explored.  After this, the author turns his attention to personal finances, with brief coverage of topics like banks, saving, borrowing, speculation, bankruptcy, and charitable giving.  At this point the author turns to macro-economics and looks at how national economies work in such areas as spontaneous order, central banks, monetarism, labor, balancing budgets, and national debt.  Continuing, the author then turns his attention to the function of international economies through such topics as global markets, comparative advantages, protectionism, dependency theory, informal economies, development, and entitlement theory.  The final chapter finds the author looking at the relationship between economics and politics, where the author discusses Keynesian thought, the people problem, war, the environment, religion, and women.  Throughout the author demonstrates himself to be highly sympathetic to the viewpoints of the left, and far more critical of the economics of the right.

It is this pervasive imbalance of worldview that makes this book so irritating.  When an author deliberately sets out to write a superficial introductory treatment of a subject, he is writing to people who are neophytes in a given field and are not expected to have any sort of pre-existing knowledge or expertise or perspective in a subject.  It is therefore of the utmost importance that an author be as fair-minded as possible with regards to which subjects are included and what treatment subjects are given.  In that light the author’s choices to highlight feminist and Marxist theory so prominently is immensely dodgy.  To be sure, this is a book that ought to help the author appeal to his fellow leftists, to prove his bona fides within progressive circles, and for those who are aware of a larger economic context than the author shows, it certainly raises some thought-provoking questions that are worthy of either investigation or debunking, but for readers who are not aware of a full picture of economics, this book is a seductive and biased snake in the grass.  Proceed with caution.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/01/25/book-review-ninety-percent-of-everything/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/05/03/audiobook-review-the-undercover-economist-strikes-back/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2015/12/21/book-review-capitalism-slavery-and-republican-values/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/10/04/book-review-godonomics/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/06/14/book-review-small-is-beautiful/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/11/22/book-review-super-freakonomics/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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