Set in 1965, Henry Spearman is a Harvard professor of economics who travels to Cambridge, England, to negotiate the purchase of the house of the famous economist Alfred Mashall on behalf of his foundation. While he is there he delivers a witty and insightful lecture in free market economics and with masterful insight predicts the demise of the Communist system. The house sale does not go according to plan, but shortly after he is enjoying the civilised surroundings, when a gruesome and baffling murder takes place in a nearby college. The house sale is turning out to be more complicated than anyone imagined, even for a brilliant economist. Henry Spearman is forced to turn detective, and a formidable analyst he makes.
Although it may sound unlikely, the authors of this book (Marshall Jevons is a pseudonym), make a series of mini-lectures and debates from the lips of the professor into both an entertaining way to learn some principles of economics and an undeniable tool for solving crime. Written in 1995, this book is the third in the Spearman murder series, and is an impressively improved model over the first which was written in 1978. The prose is OK, the descriptions are kept under control, the cut-and-thrust of debate has some real flashes of humour and wordplay. The lessons in economics (for you are indubitably to be enlightened as well as entertained), are generally well integrated into the proceedings, helped by the fact that it is set in Cambridge, which is full of intellectuals and uni-types (not the same thing), who like the flashing blade of debate. And, for the murder mayhem mystery addict (I am more of a `Dirty Harry' type myself - I read these things for the Economics 101), there is enough by way of twists of the plot and a fair sprinkling of red herring to make it worth your while. And, if this has not already been made into a film, it would make a decent thriller sans the mini-lectures, but keeping the Communista-free market debate and the cocktail party.
OK, no plot spoilers, so what lessons in econs can u get here? (and I had to read this book twice to winkle these out, so heads up) -
1. Adverse selection in situations of buying used cars and insurance policies, asymmetry in information theory
2. The economic notion of why people buy anything - utility
3. Love considered as an `interdependent utility function' [I kid u not]
4. Intro. to some famous names: Marshall, Pigou, Keynes, Adam Smith
5. Elasticity of demand and tax
6. No such thing as a `fair' price - the `right' price according to interacting factors.
7. Why Communism Will Fail - Humpty-Dumpty theorem of instability - the critical factor of systemic information summarised by rapidly flexible market prices as opposed to slow inflexible planned prices [r u keepg up w this?] Natural selection can only act if there is variation: communism/socialism deludes itself into thinking that this reality does not constrain them. Eg, Communist cold cream versus Revlon and Helena Rubenstein cosmetics.
8. Q: If Communism is so obviously going to fail, why does it appeal to intellectuals? (A: they think that because they are so clever, they will be in charge in such a society - socialista paternalism! Ooo - does that hurt?)
9. Price effect of supply and demand of joint products, eg straw and wheat, beef and leather
10. Banana split versus fruit cocktail: theory of (psychological) indifference in economic choice [ignores radomicity and free will, too simple model, nature abhors a deadlock]
11. Appendectomy and the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility.
12. Economics of running a stables by `Hobson's Choice' (historical example)
13. Efficient allocation of scarce resources by price/most valued use
14. Why have economic theory? Analogy of the map as guide to reality, not reality itself [did they get this from `Mere Christianity' by C.S. Lewis, theology as a map to God?]
15. Contrast between deductive and inductive reason
16. Competition bids up the price
17. Contrast value in use and value in exchange
This is the sort of book that sets you thinking and the lessons do outweigh the novel itself. If you want to track a bit more economistic fiction I also recommend `The Choice' by Russell Roberts: the English economist David Ricardo is summoned back from the grave to comment on international free trade versus protectionism in twentieth century America. Very well written, high level of integration between the morals, the economics, the politics, and the pure political theory. For a good all-round introduction (by an ex-Marxist) try `Basic Economics' by Thomas Sowell, no maths required. Enjoy!