Greg Mankiw's Problem
By Arnold Kling
No, it’s not that he’s going to get fired by Harvard for casually invoking the Great Unmentionable to explain intergenerational income correlations. It’s that he is teaching a seminar at Harvard for first-year economics students. What 10 books to assign?
Two of the books on his list are the two that I thought I would like to have my high school students read–Animal Spirits by Akerlof and Shiller and Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman. But this summer I decided that Friedman’s book does not hold up well. [UPDATE: What I mean by “does not hold up well” is that I cannot present it to high school students as something they can relate to. Way too much monetary theory. Outdated discussion of Civil Rights. Better to have a book that is self-explanatory, rather than one where you need a lot of historical background to understand the context.] My inclination is to replace it with another book on Mankiw’s list, The Price of Everything by Russ Roberts. Incidentally, Mankiw includes another Masonomist work, Bryan’s Myth of the Rational Voter.
If I could pick ten, they would be, in addition to Akerlof-Shiller and Roberts (not in order of priority):
3. The Wordly Philosopophers, by Heilbroner. Also on Mankiw’s list.
4. The Mind and the Market, by Jerry Muller. Another history of economic thought, more difficult than Heilbroner.
5. A Random Walk Down Wall Street, by Burt Malkiel. Mankiw is also a Malkiel fan, although Malkiel does not make his list.
6. The Power of Productivity, by William Lewis
7. Poverty and Discrimination, by Kevin Lang
8. Manias, Panics, and Crashes, by Charles Kindleberger
9. Fool’s Gold, by Gillian Tett
10. Farewell to Alms, by Gregory Clark
Honorable mentions include Myth of the Rational Voter, Edward Leamer’s Macroeconomic Patterns and Stories, William Easterly’s White Man’s Burden, Amar Bhide’s Origins and Evolution of New Businesses, Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian’s Information Rules, Perry Mehrling’s Fischer Black and the Revolutionary Idea of Finance, and my own Crisis of Abundance.
Relative to Mankiw’s list, mine is lighter on political economy and microeconomics. It is heavier on charts and data-driven reasoning (Clark, Lewis, Lang) and on finance and financial crises.