30 Second Economics – a guest review by Phil Thornton







A guest review by Phil Thornton (Clarity Economics) of 30 Second Economics ed. Donald Marron

Every
cloud has a silver lining and one positive offshoot from the tornado that was
the financial crisis has been a spurt of books aiming to explain economics to
non-economists. As
its title sets out, this latest entry, 30 Second Economics edited by Donald Marron, aims to explain the 50 most
thought-provoking economic theories in just half a minute.

It
joins What you
need to know about economics
and Economics:
making sense of the modern economy
, both reviewed here on The Enlightened Economist, as well
as other recent offerings such as 50 economics
ideas you really need to know
.

Publishers
clearly have a firm idea of what the public wants: 50 ideas; each one easily and quickly digestible; and illustrated with snappy quotes, graphs and potted
biographies.
30 Second brings some new elements: a “3-second crash”
that explains each idea in around 20 words (or around a Twitter-length 140 characters)
and a “3-minute boom” for those who want to delve deeper.

The
50 ideas are categorised within eight groups (schools of thought, economic
systems, economic cycles, growth, global trade, choice, tax and spend, and
markets), which makes it easier for the reader to navigate. Each
entry has a double-page spread with text on one side that also includes related
theories and key thinkers, and an imaginative infographic to hammer home the
point on the facing page.

While
this makes the book a little formulaic, it makes it easier to read than other
similar books that have more varied structure but which take longer to cover a
given subject. You pays your money…

Its
choice of potted biographies is similar to that of other books in the same genre (von
Hayek, Friedman, Keynes, Malthus, Ricardo, Becker, Marshall and Smith). However, the
writers (there are four –  see below) display a sense of humour that some other
books in the same vein often lack. In
the biography of Malthus, for example, the book notes that while history has
been harsh on his theories on population, the current emphasis of economic
sustainability means the “bad boy of economics may yet have the last laugh.”

Given
that there are more than 50 economic ideas to choose from, the biggest challenge for any book
of this nature is deciding which concepts to exclude.
30 Second includes the “impossible trinity” or trilemma
that governments face is being unable to control exchange rates, capital flows
and monetary policy simultaneously that others have not selected. On
the other hand it does not include discussion of
trickle-down economics that is becoming a key part of the debate as
economies recover.

But
these are minor quibbles. The book is clearly written and presented and
includes the main concepts that non-economists need to know in the current environment.

On
a presentational note, I am not sure this is a book that needed to come out in
hardback. It is most a likely a book that users will want to keep in their
briefcase, by their laptop or even in their coat pocket so paperback would seem
the better medium.

I
also feel that the writers – the people who actually did the tight writing
needed for this book – should have received more credit. So for the record, the
contributors (who all hail from Sussex University) are Adam Fishwick,
Christakis Georgiou, Katie Huston and
Aurélie Maréchal.

The revival of this genre of easy-to-read books
on economics is welcome. On the other hand, perhaps
when new volumes are no
longer entering the market,
it will be a sign that the recovery is well
established.

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