What is the best simple intro to market-based economics?

I have been asked by John A what I think of Freakonomics to which I have given this reply:

Dear John

Thank you for your note which has caused me to go into quite a bit of thought. Freakonomics is as others have said, a storybook of interesting observations on this and that which never comes to anything much at all. It is not what I think you are looking for, which is an easy-to-read set of tales which would allow you to absorb economics by osmosis while also being entertained. The book that is supposed to do that is Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson which I have read a couple of times but which has never done the trick for me. And when you ask it just like that, I don’t really know of anything like it, which is either because it can’t be done – which is possible – or because no one has done it – which strangely is also possible – or because it has been done but I am unaware of the book. I would say that I have done it, sort of, but my version comes in at 400+ pages so that’s not what you mean either. And I am possibly not a very good judge of this anyway, since I bring a lot of background knowledge so what I am looking for is different from what you are looking for.

An interesting and useful question. I would be interested in any thoughts on any brief, easy-to-follow intro to economics that goes over the basics, but would really like to know of one that takes a non-Keynesian, non-interventionist approach to how a market economy really works.

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34 Responses to What is the best simple intro to market-based economics?

  1. .

    I’d say read from the Library of Economics and Liberty:

    http://www.econlib.org/

    Has Hazlitt and a wide range of free market authors (Austrian, Chicago and supply side and more).

  2. How about Gene Callahan’s ‘Economics for Real People.’

  3. Milton & Rose Friedman: ‘Free to Choose’

  4. lordazrael

    Free to choose by Milton Friedman was what we gave to new members in my qld young libs branch back in the 90’s. These day it could be supplemented by YouTube clips of his tv show.

  5. Infidel Tiger

    Free to choose by Milton Friedman was what we gave to new members in my qld young libs branch back in the 90?s.

    Did they all toss it in the bin like every other Liberal Party member has?

  6. tgs

    Did they all toss it in the bin like every other Liberal Party member has?

    Heh

  7. Leigh Lowe

    I wouldn’t call Freakonomics a text book, even at an elementary level. It is a long time since I read it, but I remember it as a loose collection of parables and anecdotes, and lighter than helium.

  8. Mark Harrison

    Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics is excellent. Not a diagram or equation in the whole book, just lucid explanations of economics, illustrated with real world examples. It is not only useful to learn economics, but is a useful guide on how to explain economics to non-economists.

  9. Mique

    My choice as a complete economics tyro for broad-brush introduction to the subject and related issues would be to startbwith almost anything by Thomas Sowell. The huge number of his books in print suggests that he has a large and devoted readership of which I am one, and that can only mean that he has got lots of interesting things to say. Perhaps start with The Thomas Sowell Reader.

  10. rich

    We have to win the hearts and minds argument by making such things available to laymen

    I wouldn’t call Freakonomics a text book, even at an elementary level. It is a long time since I read it, but I remember it as a loose collection of parables and anecdotes, and lighter than helium.

    The genius is its not brain-hurty

    The reason that it’s lighter than helium is that it has no salient. We just need an “oh its obvious” example without technical jargon or mathematics to sell to the masses

    The econo blog on learn liberty by Brian Caplan videos were quite illuminating to me

  11. Nicholas (Rule yourselves!) Gray

    It’s important that we also stop people reading ‘The Magic Pudding’. I am convinced it made more impressionable kiddies into socialists than Das Kapital.

  12. As an engineer and a layman to economics I have just spent 5 years enlightening myself on economic matters, no small thanks to your own book leading me there. It is called Economics for the Disinterested and will be a POD at Amazon. If you send me your e-mail I will forward an e-copy for your perusal.

  13. Chris M

    Yes, Thomas Sowell or Milton Friedman…. not that I’ve read many other authors!

  14. DMS

    What is the best simple intro to market-based economics?

    Reading Tim Worstall’s blog.
    From today “Look, there’s only two really important things in economics: opportunity costs and incentives matter.?”

  15. .

    DMS
    #1860020, posted on November 18, 2015 at 3:59 pm
    What is the best simple intro to market-based economics?

    Reading Tim Worstall’s blog.
    From today “Look, there’s only two really important things in economics: opportunity costs and incentives matter.?”

    Which is why snarky remarks about Freakonomics are rather twee and silly.

  16. Pyrmonter

    Echoing Dot, for the next step on in terms of comparative and applied econ, the Econtalk podcasts (though a little less so lately)

    http://www.econtalk.org/

    Excellent discussions of money topics in 2009-2012 – Taylor, Meltzer, Sumner, Hanke and Laidler. A remarkable exercise to bring scholars of that calibre into the (relatively popular) media.

  17. Pyrmonter

    Oh, and for Public Choice – the economic theory of government – nothing is more accessible than Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. Antony Jay is a genius.

  18. Guy

    Oops. I mucked up my use of the HTML code. The last link was supposed to be:

  19. Empire

    Consider reading Peter Smith’s Bad Economics first, then one of the texts suggested upthread. It will attune you BS detector to the correct frequency.

  20. Art Vandelay

    I’d go with Thomas Sowell. For further reading, Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves is a persuasive and engaging book about how trade, free markets and specialisation have driven prosperity.

  21. MikeS

    If Freakonomics is a contender then you could do worse than P. J. O’Rourke’s “Eat The Rich” and for that matter “Parliament of Whores”.

  22. motherhubbard'sdog

    Mark Harrison
    #1859950, posted on November 18, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics is excellent.

    His Applied Economics is also a good read.

  23. vlad

    What about Economics for Dummies?

    OT: It took me a long time to realise that the title “Freakonomics” is meant as a pun (of sorts) – which depends on one’s pron0uncing “economics” with a long e.

    I pronounce it with a short e.

  24. JohnA

    Thanks Steve and all.

    This thread bookmarked for progressive investigation.

    I lean towards Kindle versions these days, but there is so much to research, I am likely to be posting less in here for a while. (Aha! Now he understands why so many refs and links 🙂 )

    Just after Steve sent me his reply, we were struck by a sudden internet problem here, so we are on half connection for approx two days until Telstra/Visionstream gets a tech out to our street to figure out what the hell the previous repair job did to us from so far away, whilst fixing up someone else’s problem.

    TWO DAYS?? Telstra organisationally hasn’t changed from the 1980s.

  25. Austin Mangosteen

    There are so many different ways. But maybe to get the taste buds salivating, a little bedtime story:

    You advise your little nipper and John Rockefeller mum advised him: If you plant seashells, they will grow into money trees. Paper seashells are not as good as gold seashells because they rot. So plant golden colored seashells. If you find the seashells taking too long to grow into a money tree, maybe you had better create something someone is willing to trade some of their time to obtain. You can use their time for your own purposes or the person can create something that you want for what he wants. Do this enough times and you will not have to be a slave and have ample to live on, because you will have other people working for you to obtain what you want. That is how an economy starts. Thereon in it is just like little Johnny Appleseed who kept on sowing apple seeds until the all of USA was blanketed with apple trees. Only instead of apple trees, you will have everyone earning some money and sending it your way. This is called the Rockefeller principle, enjoy the rewards as J.D. Rockefeller did.
    Born into a poor Cleveland family in 1839, John D. Rockefeller, as a young boy sold sweets to local children to help his family as his father didn’t. His Father was known as ‘Devil Bill’, a conman who did whatever he could to avoid actual work. Nevertheless, thanks to the guidance of his mom Eliza – a homemaker and devout Baptist – John D. grew up to be a hardworking man. He quit school early, became a bookmaker, worked in dry goods before entering the oil business. He found prospecting unpredictable and wasteful. He believed refining crude oil into kerosene to provide light at night in the homes of Americans would be where the money tree would be found. For John’s mother told him often that Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men and they will gladly pay you handsomely as you give God the glory.”
    On September 29, 1916, John D. Rockefeller became the first person to ever reach a nominal personal fortune of US$1 billion. Rockefeller amassed his fortune from the Standard Oil company, of which he was a founder, chairman and major shareholder. By the time of his death in 1937, estimates place his net worth in the range of US$392 billion to US$663.4 billion in adjusted dollars for the late 2000s. When considering the real value of his wealth, Rockefeller is widely held to be the wealthiest American in history—Wikipedia and other sources.

  26. Yohan

    Frederic Bastiat’s ‘Economic Sophisms’ and ‘That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen’ are by far the best intro’s to free market economics. They Sophisms are much better than Hazlitt’s book. Many people do not read Bastiat these days because they think its too old, but you will be missing out.

    The Mises Institute has a Bastiat Collection free to download which contains these essays and others, such as ‘The Law’.
    https://mises.org/library/bastiat-collection

  27. Guy

    @ Yohan

    I forgot about Bastiat. Yes, his essays are very readable and timeless. In addition to That Which is Seen”, I find myself repeatedly referring to his Obstacle and Cause and The Law essays. The great thing about them is that many are only 4-8 pages long.

  28. Yohan

    I agree Guy, Obstacle for the Cause is my favorite, along with Abundance vs Scarcity. It seems these fallacies never die…

    https://mises.org/library/obstacle-mistaken-cause
    https://mises.org/library/abundance-vs-scarcity

  29. .

    Yohan
    #1860657, posted on November 19, 2015 at 5:14 am
    Frederic Bastiat’s ‘Economic Sophisms’ and ‘That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen’ are by far the best intro’s to free market economics.

    I have erred. You are right sir, but EconLib has it all!

  30. Nicholas (Rule yourselves!) Gray

    In the vein of What to Avoid, a good book to read is “Why Nations Fail”, which tells you about bad economic decisions made in the past. What to do, based on what clearly didn’t work.

  31. Robert Crew

    I second Bastiat’s ‘That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen’. Not just as an introduction to economics, but as a mental toolkit to refute every Leftist argument that can ever appear. Socialism in all its forms never considers that which is unseen, but people of the Left love to think of themselves as seekers after hidden truths. Even if you haven’t come across a particular piece of Socialist nonsense, you can always refute it by following the given principle to its illogical conclusion, and highlighting the unforeseen consequences. Bastiat, like Sowell, deals with ordinary people in their daily lives, so centuries later his words still ring true.

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