Economics for everyone

Jim Stanford

Why I looked at this book

I recently read Free lunch by David Smith, which I thought gave a useful introduction to economic concepts. This book seems to have a similar aim, but with some significant differences. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two. It looks like it is more like an introduction to the subject of economics, rather than a guide to understanding economics terms in everyday life, but it seems to have plenty of pictures, which I hope will make it an entertaining read.

First impressions

After reading the sample I have serious worries about this book. Stanford criticises the work of 'economists' to the point of ridicule, but economists are a diverse bunch, and it doesn't make sense to tar them all with the same brush. It looks too much like trying to claim a 'God's eye view'. Stanford also criticises capitalism, more reasonable maybe, but he includes any free market economics under the banner 'capitalism'. I'm deeply suspicious about trying to redefine words in this manner. And while I'd agree that it's unacceptable that many people are living in extreme poverty when there's enough for all, blaming 'capitalism' is just too simplistic, especially when a move towards a Western style market economy has lifted huge numbers of people out of poverty in the last few decades.

I also have my doubts about Stanford claiming to represent the voice of common sense against the counterintuitive pronouncements of 'experts'. In economics it is generally those on the right who present their arguments as common sense - austerity is the best way to deal with a recession - while ideas such as Keynesian stimulus seem highly counterintuitive.

In chapter 5 of Development as freedom Amartya Sen tell how, a generation or so ago, a typical economics textbook would have a long list of the failings of the free market, and generally offer their idea for a better economic system (often involving a powerful bureaucracy), without considering that their system might have even more failings. I'm worried that this book might be going in the same direction.

On the other hand Stanford does focus on the idea that economics should be about how humans work and what we do with the fruits of our labour, rather than taking existing economic concepts as given. I would agree with this, as it is important to realise that we don't live in the world of scarcity on which much economics seems to be based. So I'll continue reading, and I hope that the book will improve later on.
Coming soon:
Main Review
Reviews Elsewhere
Why not follow the Twitter feed?