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Economics For Dummies Paperback – March 25, 2011
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From the Back Cover
Grasp the history, principles, theories, and terminology of economics
Want to know more about the recent financial crisis and the steps taken to repair it? Packed with information and relevant new examples from today's economy, this updated, best-selling guide gives you a straightforward, easy-to-grasp understanding of how the economy functions — and how it influences personal finances.
The science of scarcity — discover how economics is all about scarcity, and how it forces people to make tradeoffs for desired goods and services
Oh, behave! — learn about theories on behavior (micro-economics) to better understand what motivates a firm to produce a given output, and how buyers and sellers interact in markets to distribute that output
Put it to the test — find out how to apply theories onmicroeconomics to shed light on real-world scenarios, likethe high cost of health insurance, why it's so hard to find aquality used car, and much more
Get the big picture — take a look at the economy from the top (macroeconomics) to find out how economic growth andstability is dealt with at national and international levels
Open the book and find:
How the government fightsrecessions and unemployment
Why international trade is good for nations (and individuals)
What's behind the goods andservices you might take for granted
Reasons monopolies are bad
Who is controlling your money (and inflation)
Policies that can cause more harm than good
How the simple "supply anddemand" model easily explains the price of everything
The effects of taxation on society
Decipher consumer behavior
Use the model of supply and demand
Identify factors that lead to inflation
Understand fiscal and monetary policies
About the Author
Sean Flynn, PhD, is an assistant professor of economics at Scripps College in Claremont, California. He is an active resource on the topic of economics in both the academic community and the media. He has been a guest expert on NPR and has been interviewed for articles on Forbes.com.
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Top customer reviews
That said, and keeping in mind that this is my first work on economics which therefore determines 100% of my knowledge of the subject, I have to say that EfD is a good place to get started. It is written as a college textbook by a professor for students, which means that it has been honed by actual classes and actual feedback into a work that actually explains. The result presents theory in a logical order, laying a foundation of fundamentals and expanding from there in a step-by-step manner; at no point did I have the feeling that the author was jumping back and forth, starting over or suddenly heading in a different direction. There is some repetition in the book to allow reading chapters out of order, but it is not disturbing enough to be off-putting. The general theory is also interspersed with chapters on practical application of theory to certain areas of life (like healthcare and economic bubbles) which are interesting and quite topical to the times.
The author claims to have avoided political coloring and to have presented only those parts of the theory which are not in dispute. While I am not in a position to validate this claim completely, I can confirm that any political coloring is hidden well enough not to be overtly obvious. He usually presents what seems like either a well-balanced average of the different points of view, or a fair overview of both sides with a good listing of pros and cons.
There are certain downsides to the book. In particular (since I started by thinking that all economists where sham-artists), I do believe that Flynn downplays the weaknesses of economics as a science more than he should. For example, he mentions honestly enough at the start that economics makes some fundamental assumptions about what drives people, but he downplays that this means that economics can also be wildly wrong in everything it says. His take on philanthropy also seems a bit of a stretch to keep philanthropists within the realm of economics more than anything else. In his example of Singapore I wonder if he is pointedly ignoring the factor of the physical size of the country in the effectiveness of its healthcare system, in that physical closeness of all institutes enables effective competition between them.
Didactically, Flynn favors presenting facts and explaining them afterwards as a style of writing (e.g. "the following factors influence the success of monetary policy intervention", followed by a list, followed by an explanation of why). Personally I am a fan of a more deductive style, although I recognize that would have made the book longer.
In addition, there is some pomposity in the book, in particular when he gets into how badly organized property rights cause all environmental concerns. He is right that this is an aspect of the issue, but it is not the whole story.
Finally, Flynn goes to great lengths to stress that he will minimize the maths and help you through what there is of it, thereby undermining the idea that there is a rigorous basis to economics. Embracing the maths would have been better -- the book may be for dummies, that doesn't make the audience idiots.
Summarizing, a pretty good place to start learning about economics, with a few downsides to watch out for. Useful book for anybody with an interest in learning about the subject, but reading another book in addition remains a must.
Sean Flynn, Economics For Dummies (Wiley, 2011)
Tom Gorman, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Economics (Penguin, 2003)
Steve Slavin, Economics: A Self-Teaching Guide (Wiley, 1999)
People often ask me what to read to learn the type of basic economic theory that is taught in university graduate and undergraduate courses. This is somewhat difficult because most writers for the general public have some sort of political axe to grind and present a one-sided version of the theory, or a complete alternative to the theory. I have nothing against such writers, but I will always suggest that readers also/instead of/before reading these political pleadings, find out what the general "received wisdom" is.
It may seem that there is no "received wisdom" that is shared by most economists, but this is not the case. Except in the area of macroeconomic policy, there are few disagreements. In the macroeconomic area, the standard models are pretty awful, but economic policy types have deeper problems: general models can show you the general direction of effects, but when there are offsetting directions, only quantitative evidence can supply a credible answer. For instance, increasing government expenditure to lower the unemployment rate may be offset by the effects of government debt on interest, inflation, and growth rates. Only careful attention to details can determine the net effect of the policy, and even this is subject to significant error. However, you cannot even begin to assess economic policy seriously unless you know basic economic theory.
The books reviewed here are basic starting points for gaining a facility in economic theory. Alternatively, you can simply buy one of the leading undergraduate textbooks and plow through it. The textbook will be more demanding, very fat, and quite expensive. Before doing this, I advise that you tackle one or more of the above volumes. They are all quite good, and it wouldn't hurt to read them all. But, here are my impressions.
Economics for Dummies is the most sophisticated of the three books and covers extremely important material left out of the others. This includes an analysis of property right, market externality, public goods, asymmetric information, and other absolutely fundamental aspects of modern economic theory, which is really the theory of the interaction between markets and macroeconomic regulation for efficiency and stability. It rather weak on national income accounting (none of the books is strong in this very difficult area), and it does no general equilibrium analysis (e.g., the very instructive Edgeworth box is missing). Finally, the book rather slights statistical information on the economy and give little historical perspective.
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Economics is a little out of date (2003), and is especially concerned with regulatory policy in dealing with volatile economies. It has lots of interesting statistics, and gives a detailed explanation of the Federal Reserve and its operation. It is similarly strong on analyzing international trade and exchange rates. Read this after Economics for Dummies.
Economics: A Self-Teaching Guide cannot deal with recent economic issues because it was published in 1999, but it is well worth reading. It is especially strong on economic history and it presents in some detain the various schools of thought in macroeconomic theory. It also does considerable national income accounting, which I consider a prerequisite to understanding current economic issues. Its microeconomics sections are rather brief. It is certainly not a substitute for Economics for Dummies.
If readers have comments and/or suggestions of these or other candidates for learning basic economic theory, please pass them on to me.