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Basic Economics A Citizen's Guide to the Economy Hardcover – December 23, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A well-known conservative columnist, author and economist, Sowell (A Personal Odyssey, etc.) presents an introductory course in economics with an emphasis on public policy. Forgoing jargon, equations, graphs and complicated exposition, he's produced a book that's easy to read and understand, though it tends to be superficial and is written in an angry tone, often accusing others of economic ignorance, as if that is the only possible explanation for disagreement with the author's views. Sowell is at his best discussing microeconomics in the first two-thirds of the book. Unlike most accounts, which cover the subject from the point of view of business or investment, Sowell concentrates on government action, in an effort to prepare the reader for civic participation. He addresses price controls and subsidies in detail, both as important political issues in their own right and to demonstrate how prices work by showing what happens when they are constrained. In the final third of the book, he wades into more complex and controversial territory--macroeconomics, international economics and popular fallacies--and his effort to cover them at the elementary level results in a muddled treatment. Overall, his defense of certain conservative tenets is wielded with a sledgehammer rather than a rapier. Agent, Carol Mann. (Feb. 15)Forecast: Sowell's many fans will appreciate this book (which is supported by a radio satellite tour), though it is probably most appropriate as a gift to junior high school relatives, accompanied by a bribe to read it. General readers can--and some of them will--find better written, more sophisticated introductions to economics, including such middle-of-the-road overviews as From Here to Economy: A Short Cut to Economic Literacy by Todd G. Buchholz or New Ideas from Dead Economists: An Introduction to Modern Economic Thought by Todd G. Buchholz and Martin Feldstein. For a conservative viewpoint, Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman has yet to be topped.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Syndicated columnist Sowell (economics, Hoover Inst.) is the author of 31 books and monographs on a broad range of topics, including race, culture, education, social policy, philosophy, and economics. In this groundbreaking work, he explains the basics of economics without resorting to the graphs, equations, and jargon that typically fill the textbooks and literature in the field. Along the way, he explains exactly what economics is and what its guiding principles are. Sowell covers a broad range of topics, from scarcity, the balance of trade, and price controls to minimum-wage laws, competition, profits and losses, and the role of government. Intended as a primer for the citizen not trained in the basics of economic theory, this book is flawed only in a somewhat confusing organization that leads to repetition. Recommended for public libraries. Norm Hutcherson, California State Univ., Bakersfield
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 438 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Rev Exp edition (December 24, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465081452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465081455
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (153 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #433,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thomas Sowell has taught economics at Cornell, UCLA, Amherst and other academic institutions, and his Basic Economics has been translated into six languages. He is currently a scholar in residence at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has published in both academic journals in such popular media as the Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine and Fortune, and writes a syndicated column that appears in newspapers across the country.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

114 of 119 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Economic illiteracy (and its political results) may be the single largest cause of avoidable human misery worldwide. Even in the US, (the most advanced market ecomony in the world), it is painful to listen to the daily pronouncements of most politicians and commentators on the subject.
Sowell provides a good complilation of what any educated citizen needs to know. As he admits, there is little in this book that hasn't been understood by at least some economists for decades (and sometimes centuries). But he spices the presentation with many recent examples of political folly.
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94 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Scott Widener on June 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The author presents a solid synopsis and analysis of economic data that span most of Humanity's history. He uses these data to clearly explain complex economic phenomena as an application of simple, seemingly immutable, economic rules. The consequences of failure to account for these rules by policy makers over both time and distance are well described.
The primary review of this book is objectionable. The reviewer erroneously applies the label "conservative" to Dr. Sowell, lamenting the author's expressed point of view. Dr. Sowell writes the book as an economist, not an ideologue, and the book is simply an economic treatment of evidence, devoid of any political bend. What should be clear to the reviewer is that economics is not a belief system, but rather the study of the allocation of scare resources. A study-of employs scientific method and standard statistical techniques to test hypotheses and to draw inferences. This process, done correctly, must be free from ideology. Therefore, while a liberal might very well continue to support rent control as a policy, he does so in lieu of the demonstrated consequences of such policy. One can disagree with a political or philosophical stance; one cannot "disagree" with accumulated evidence.
There are some annoying typographical errors that should have been culled during editing. However, it is a great work overall. I endorse the sentiment that this book should be required reading for anybody that votes, anybody that holds office, and for anybody that has not given substantial thought or study to the subject of economics, yet considers himself educated.
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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I wish there were some way to get this book into the hands of every household in America. Someone with the means should fund that project.
The amazing thing is that what Sowell says throughout this book should need saying. Much of what he says is patently self-evident to anyone not blinded by idelogical prejudices. We should not have to continue repeating the mistakes of the past (and present).
Sowell, in his own inimitable style, discusses clearly and concisely all of the basic issues involved in economics. Probably the most important thing he says repeatedly is that economic plans should NOT be evaluateed on the basis of their purported goals. Instead, they should be evaluated on the basis of the incentives they will create. It is a failure to take into account these incentives that explain why so many good intentions have resulted in complete and utter failure. Incentives, not intentions, are what count.
If you want to know why the common analyses of the ecomomy and the common suggestions for improvement that are promoted by politicians, pundits, and professional news anchors are misguided and counter-productive, read this book.
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243 of 278 people found the following review helpful By Arnold Kling on February 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In the textbook industry, "progress" is signified by style over substance, with the goal apparently to achieve the look and feel of "USA Today." Books compete to have more charts, sidebars, highlighted sections, and, of course, the ever-necessary multimedia CD ROM.
Into this wind spits Thomas Sowell, with his delightfully retro attempt to put the "text" back into textbook. Taking us back to the days before Samuelson, and indeed before Marshall, he presents economics in terms of logic, examples, and occasional data.
Turning to substance, one might fairly ask, "Is this book an economics textbook or a right-wing polemic?"
The answer is "yes."
My college economics professor used to point out that the liberal Samuelson and the conservative Friedman believed in the same price theory. However, Friedman applied it to policy more aggressively.
Sowell applies economic theory aggressively to policy, and the chips happen to fall well to the right of center. But what is there in "Basic Economics" to which a liberal economist might object? I can only think of a few things.
1. Sowell takes the monetarist view of macroeconomic fluctuations. He does not mention the savings/investment imbalance theory of Keynes. But even most liberal economists won't stick up for Keynes nowadays (I will).
2. Sowell points out that social security is an intergenerational transfer, and that its feasibility depends on the ratio of workers to retirees. Liberal economists agree with this view. But they still like social security, and Sowell does not deal with their rationale (weak as it may be).
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