Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Economics 2.0

I've just been reading (courtesy of a review copy from Palgrave Macmillan) Economics 2.0: what the best minds in economics can teach you about business and life. Written by Norbert Häring and Olaf Storbeck, both economics journalists on the German Handelsblatt newspaper, and elegantly translated by Jutta Scherer, it's a very accessible scamper over some popular areas of economic study - education and employment, stock market success, the roots of the credit crunch, CEO and sports star pay, things like that.

It's undoubtedly part of that post-Freakonomics wave of pop economics books, but it's one of the better ones. It's very clearly written and translated, albeit with the occasional literal. The European origin offers up a few less familiar subjects and perspectives, and the authors also seem refreshingly free of the ideological bent apparent in some such similar books. Indeed, the authors spend the final chapter offering warnings about the effects of political prejudice (and other hazards) among professional economists.

It does take a rather scattergun approach, but the main theme is research which helps close that often overwhelming gap between economic theory and reality. Much of the work is drawn from experimental and behavioural studies, and much of it is very recent though there are some interesting historical cases. References are given after each chapter, though these are not comprehensive - to take a glaring example, Ferguson and Voth's fascinating Betting on Hitler (Quarterly Journal of Economics 2008 - pre-press pdf here) is discussed over several pages in chapter 13, but doesn't appear in the references.

The book gives a very good overview of a lot of interesting work, and should be of interest to economic novices and experts alike. The breadth of the topics means that even the most experienced professionals are likely to find something they didn't know as well as plenty of ammunition for arguments. The less experienced should get a good sense of what economics is really about and why, despite the conspicuous failures of models and ideologies in recent times, the subject is still relevant.

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