2 Jun 2017 10:00am

Between the lines

Richard Baldwin, professor of international economics at The Graduate Institute, Geneva, on the books that engage his mind and economia reviews 50 Economics Classics by Tom Butler-Bowdon

Caption: Richard Baldwin says the book he has learnt the most from is 1984 by George Orwell.

I wish that everyone would write a book so as to clarify their thinking about what matters to them in life. And the stories they’d tell! I always find that truth is stranger than fiction.

My favourite book is Confessions by Jean-Jaques Rousseau. The mix of insight into his mental processes and slice-of-life stories from this unusual phase of European history proved wonderfully addictive.

The book I learnt the most from is 1984 by George Orwell. I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s in the American Midwest and believed governments were basically good and society was basically just. This book was the beginning of a lifetime of cynicism.

The last book I read was The Righteous Mind by Jon Haidt. Haidt lays out for the non-specialist the theories and evidence suggesting people often act as individual members of communities, rather than just individuals. This helps explain their seeming predilection for policies that are not in their individual self interest.

My desert island book would be Power and Plenty by O’Rourke & Findlay, since this contains a lifetime of information on world history.

economia reviews...

50 Economics Classics by Tom Butler-Bowdon

 On first glance, this book is an example of what’s wrong with our listicle-driven, social media soundbite society. Reducing great works by brilliant economic minds from across the political spectrum to pithy one-liners might be a clever exercise, but should it be encouraged?

Spending a little longer with this book (the latest in the 50 Classics series) reveals it as something more. It serves as a useful primer (or refresher, if it’s a while since you studied economics) for these great works. But putting these ideas in close contact with one another allows each one to be reflected in the light of the others. This offers new insights into works by “first generation” economists such as Adam Smith as well as newer writing by Thomas Piketty or Michael Lewis that reflects topical concerns.

So how might we best summarise this book of summaries? Well, the author does that himself, when he describes it as “an intelligent person’s guide to capitalism, finance and the global economy”.