+8 votes
asked ago in General Economics Questions by (270 points)
I'm trying to interest my college-aged nephew in economics as a career; aside from recommending he listen to podcasts from Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell, what authors would you recommend?
commented ago by (1.2k points)
When people ask me to recommend just one book on economics they should read, I suggest "Reinventing the Bazaar" by John McMillan (WW Norton, 2002). Reactions have been very positive. I have not tried it on college-age students, but it may also work for them.

16 Answers

+7 votes
answered ago by (670 points)
selected ago by
Best answer
Some of Michael Lewis' books, even though they're a bit more finance that straight up econ, would be nice -- they're really fun to read. If he's interested in the Big Questions, Acemoglu & Robinson (Why Nations Fail) is great, & Jared Diamond is a good read too. I am an economist in no small part because I read David Landes (The Wealth and Poverty of Nations) as a freshman, much as that book has not stood the test of time.   Niall Ferguson's documentary series, The Ascent of Money, was also well made and fun, & I'm pretty sure you can stream it online (legally).

I've also heard The Undercover Economist talked about as a good book for beginners.
0 votes
answered ago by (140 points)
Here are some suggestions:

Why ‘simple economics’ is often wrong, and other book recommendations for the econ lover in your life https://www.minnpost.com/macro-micro-minnesota/2017/11/why-simple-economics-often-wrong-and-other-book-recommendations-econ-l/

Forget ‘Freakonomics.’ Three (plus) books for the econ buff on your list https://www.minnpost.com/macro-micro-minnesota/2014/12/forget-freakonomics-three-plus-books-econ-buff-your-list/

Good luck to you!
+1 vote
answered ago by (730 points)
The book Poor Economics is also a great access
+4 votes
answered ago by (330 points)
We host "Ask Me Anythings", structured(ish) interviews on the primary economics communities on reddit (reddit.com/r/economics and reddit.com/r/badeconomics)  on a quarterly or more basis to introduce folks to different economists and regularly put out a career / school advice thread (https://www.reddit.com/r/badeconomics/comments/97n6wh/careerschool_advice_thread/).  The badeconomics community tends to have more folks with BA and beyond economics education, nearly all the moderator staff have a quantitative MA or PhD.
commented ago by (460 points)
This is pretty interesting, never heard of it :O
commented ago by (360 points)
I can personally attest to the success of these communities, since they're both partially responsible for my economics major. The comments sections and their discussions generally tend to be very high quality (especially as opposed to the rest of reddit).
+3 votes
answered ago by (460 points)
I found 'Naked Economics' and 'Naked Statistics' by Charles Wheelan to be great books for people to get to know basics about Economics :-)
0 votes
answered ago by (5.8k points)
I began a freshman seminar one quarter with Gale and Shapley's "College Admissions and the Stability of Marriage," and some of those students became econ majors, and all could understand the paper even if they didn't have much mathematical inclination. (Here's a version on the web http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/cs286r/courses/fall09/papers/galeshapley.pdf )

I've also personally had good luck engaging even high school students with my own 2015  book, Who Gets What — and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design.  It's a way of suggesting to young folks that economics is about more than they may have thought.  And of course one reason it works for me is that I don't mind discussing it with people after they've read it. If you have young relatives or friends who are curious about economics, suggesting they read something that you are willing and able to discuss with them is a way to keep the conversation going.

Schelling's 1960 Strategy of Conflict is also an easy read, and fun.
+6 votes
answered ago by (1.2k points)
The way I have sometimes done it:  A conversation along these lines:

Start with the minimum wage, something they may relate to, having taken summer jobs etc.  Good/bad?  How do we think about it?  Start with supply and demand.  Mostly bad.  End of story?  No.  What about monopsony power/exploitation?   Relevant, where?   What about efficiency wages?  If relevant, why would firms not offer the higher wage any way?   Suppose you care about distribution: Hard to live on a low wage.  Are there better ways to increase income, like a negative income tax?  But what happens if just a negative income tax and no  minimum wage?  

Is this all theorizing?   No.  How would you go about testing some of these hypotheses?   How did Card and Krueger do it? Give a sense of econometrics, and diff in diff.   And so on.

Hopefully, a kid will realize this is a socially important, intellectually fascinating, set of issues, where you need to use logic, analytics, and data.  Nearly more fun than video games.
commented ago by (190 points)
Pretty much, yes:  put it in context.

I'm a politician.  I argue with people about policy online.  I'm also trying to write a book about basic economics, similar to Thomas Sowell's "Basic Economics:  Fifth Edition" but shorter and with better-reasoned conclusions (Sowell seems to analyze everything one level deep and draw macroeconomics from ceteris parabus single-variable supply-and-demand reasoning).

Direct debate seems to interest people.  For example: Sowell reasons that minimum wage artificially raises price of labor, thus increasing labor supply while reducing labor demand,  thus permanently maintaining high unemployment rates.  I've placed this against Fanati and Manfredi (2003), along with Malthus and Keynes, arguing that higher labor costs raise prices and thus reduce quantity demanded of goods, thus quantity demanded of labor, thus jobs, leading to reduced supply of labor through changing fertility decisions, retirement decisions, and migrant labor decisions.

Sowell is seen as a Conservative economist, and the conclusions I've drawn support more Liberal and Progressive arguments.  Progressives have often argued that raising minimum wage *creates* jobs, while I've argued that a higher minimum wage—as a larger portion of the per-capita income—constrains labor force growth, leading to similar unemployment rates while resulting in lower populations over time and tighter concentration of wealth into the fewer workers's hands:  higher minimum wage means fewer, wealthier workers.

By reasoning about such issues directly, I challenge the devotees of Sowell, Friedman, and Hayek, while also giving Progressive- and Liberal-minded folks a basis from which to argue.  You might notice I've *also* challenged the Progressive position that minimum wage increases *create* jobs—it's plainly wrong—and I've also made complex observations about welfares and social insurances, notably about welfare creating unemployment (if welfare is strong versus minimum wage, rational decisions about fertility can increase the labor force even as employment-gated access to the means of sustenance falls), and welfare stasis (welfare creates jobs, and then is withdrawn immediately as unemployment falls, holding a local economy in poverty by preventing it from coupling with the surrounding economy and self-sustaining).

Make the economics contextual, and build the foundation for that context.  A lot of these observations offend both ends of the philosophical spectrum, while also supporting both ends.  This combines validation with education.

Of course, it only really works when you can make correct observations that draw such interest.
+3 votes
answered ago by (200 points)
I have first-year students, so I ask questions related to Marvel movies. For trade, I use the Black Panther movie with the plot of a small country that is a closed economy but wonders whether it should an open economy. For economic history and Malthus, I use the new Avengers movie, in which the villain is Malthusian. Then I ask, is he wrong or right? Why? Both examples capture their attention right the way.
commented ago by (190 points)
The answer is that Thanos is a fool and you have a distribution problem, not a resource problem.

…I see your method works.
+1 vote
answered ago by (200 points)
I agree with Blanchard.  Besides recommending one or two good books, I would urge them to start reading a couple of articles a day in the Financial Times or Wall Street Journal, or gifting them a subscription to The Economist magazine, but above all engaging your nephew in a conversation about current events showing how economists approach issues and can provide added value.  Donald Trump makes it very easy: you can start talking about how economists analyze the pros and cons of imposing tariffs, or of pressuring Apple into assembling their products in the USA rather than China.
0 votes
answered ago by (1.2k points)
For young people interested in tech companies, it can be interesting to understand the unique value that economics brings.  I tried to summarize this in my forthcoming JEP paper about economists in tech firms and careers in tech; we talk about the research that has come out of these collaborations as well.  https://papers-ssrn-com.stanford.idm.oclc.org/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3247794
0 votes
answered ago by (350 points)
Some underrated resources, since Freakonomics, Michael Lewis, Poor Economics have already come up.

- Micromotives and Macrobehavior OR The Strategy of Conflict, Thomas Schelling. Game theory is a great access point for economics because it has immediate social relevance as well as immediate elegance. Schelling is great at exposition. The particular scenarios addressed by his books - racial segregation, nuclear arms race, etc - are also

- Planet Money, an NPR podcast on economics. The hosts are wonderful at making economics simple and fascinating. Its main advantage is that there are hundreds of episodes, so even if some of them are on topics you find uninteresting, you can just listen to other episodes. The intensity of the economics also varies continuously, so it's good even for going deeper.
+2 votes
answered ago by (5.8k points)
With the Nobel to Nordhaus and Romer in the news, this would be a good time to talk about how economics is connected to big issues like climate change and technological progress...
0 votes
answered ago by (360 points)
As a young person myself who is studying economics, I started an open discussion community on a social media platform that caters to all types of discussion but I've always focused my posts there on economics--things I've learned in class that can be related to real life and recommending books/articles and podcasts to people.

It's generally been a matter of trying to point people who have questions in the right direction. I'm not an expert by any means so I can't answer many questions off the top of my head but I've always tried my best to be able to get answers for the people that are curious, or at least being able to point them the right way like I said.

A lot of particularly young people (high school-aged) are interested in economics because of the current political climate, so I also try to focus on things that (as I understand it) tend to have a high degree of agreement among economists, or things that might surprise people/are not intuitive to someone without an economic background.

Some of my favorite things to recommend:
Nudge by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler
NPR's Planet Money podcast
Poor Economics by Bannerjee and Duflo

Stephen_Popick also referenced the /r/economics community on reddit, which has a great book list at https://www.reddit.com/r/Economics/wiki/reading that I recommend often.
+1 vote
answered ago by (680 points)
Some of the books that got me into economics as a young person (some already listed by others here):
The Undercover Economist - Harford
Predictably Irrational - Ariely
The Worldly Philosophers - Heilbroner
The Ascent of Money - Ferguson
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations- Landes
Thinking Strategically - Dixit and Nalebuff

We also subscribed to the Economic Review magazine at my school in the UK; it was designed for 16-18 year olds so is a bit young for this question, but it's a fantastic magazine that brings economic analysis to current events without too much theory or jargon (https://www.economicsnetwork.ac.uk/economicreview)

I would also say that when teaching or talking to people new-ish to economics, I've found it makes a huge difference to make it clear that "economics" doesn't necessarily have all the answers already - more, it gives you a toolkit to ask and answer the questions, and you need to think about assumptions and context when you apply that tookit. I find a lot of people are turned off (as I was!) when you first see the very simplistic models and they don't match with how you see the world working. Walking through with someone in what cases that simplistic model matches the world, and in what cases it doesn't - and in those cases, how you can change the model - can be so exciting and powerful. Particularly if the results are counter-intuitive.

I think the best way to do this is pick a topic they already care about in their political or personal lives in some way. Some ones I've found pique broad interest:
- What happens if we raise the minimum wage? (as mentioned by Olivier Blanchard in his answer) (--> perfect competition vs monopsony power)
- What happens if we raise income taxes? (--> elasticity of labor supply and taxable income)
- What happens if you let everyone choose whether or not to buy health insurance? (--> adverse selection)
- How can we explain high pay of CEOs? (--> marginal product of labor; scale effects; principal agent problems)
- Why do bank runs happen? (--> self-fulfilling expectations)
+1 vote
answered ago by (1.9k points)
Make him fall in love with mathematics. Eventually he will realize he needs a job.