Good Short Book in Economics
By David Henderson
Tyler Cowen, in asking for advice on what short book one should read for a good introduction to economics, quotes one of his regular readers as saying, “Henry Hazlett [sic] is out of date.”
Not so. I gave a talk on this at the latest APEE conference in Nassau last month, drawing on my piece on Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson in the Freeman. Here’s an excerpt in which I discuss his explanation for why economics is often so hard to grasp:
In chapter 1, “The Lesson,” Hazlitt notes that the inherent difficulties in understanding economics are multiplied a thousand times “by a factor that is insignificant in, say, physics, mathematics or medicine–the special pleading of selfish interests.” No group is out lobbying for us to doubt whether gravity exists, some California bumper stickers to the contrary. But slick, well-paid, plausible-sounding lobbyists do try to make us doubt whether we’re better off buying goods cheaper from foreign countries, because these spokesmen represent powerful interests whose jobs and wealth depend on persuading us that free trade causes losses.
Here’s an excerpt from my closing paragraph:
Although professional economists might be tempted to dismiss a book that claims to teach economics in one lesson, the fact is that few professional economists have ever read Hazlitt’s book. More’s the pity. Even some professional economists who pick it up might, I suspect, dismiss it as obvious and unsubtle. But what it really is is obvious and subtle–obvious because Hazlitt makes things so clear; subtle because his clarity helps him untangle otherwise complicated issues.
I note that in his comment on Arnold’s post on this subject and also on Tyler’s post, Dan Klein recommends my book, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey. Not surprisingly, so do I. I wrote it to lay out economics with stories (all true) because I’ve learned as a teacher that that’s how students tend to remember things. Shortly after the book came out (it came out about 2 weeks after 9/11), one of my students who had bought a copy told me that he slipped into his wife’s bag when she was going to an all-day event at which she would be sitting at a table. She had had no previous interest in economics and had thought it was boring because it was about money, GDP, interest rates, and equations. She came home that evening having read the whole thing.
The bad news is that it’s out of print. Also, about 80 of my remaining 120 or so copies were destroyed in my fire. The rights have reverted to me but I have been too busy to put out another printing or edition.