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Economics: A Very Short Introduction [Paperback]

Partha Dasgupta

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Book Description

Feb. 15 2007 0192853457 978-0192853455 1
Economics has the capacity to offer us deep insights into some of the most formidable problems of life, and offer solutions to them too. Combining a global approach with examples from everyday life, Partha Dasgupta describes the lives of two children who live very different lives in different parts of the world: in the Mid-West USA and in Ethiopia. He compares the obstacles facing them, and the processes that shape their lives, their families, and their futures. He shows how economics uncovers these processes, finds explanations for them, and how it forms policies and solutions. Along the way, Dasgupta provides an intelligent and accessible introduction to key economic factors and concepts such as individual choices, national policies, efficiency, equity, development, sustainability, dynamic equilibrium, property rights, markets, and public goods.

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`The primer I have enjoyed most... the one I would recommend to a friend who wanted to learn how economists think about the world right now...'

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Becky, who is 10 years old, lives with her parents and an older brother Sam in a suburban town in America's Midwest. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.5 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A short but ethical introduction to economics July 22 2007
By Harumi O. Moruzzi - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Partha Dasgupta writes in his Preface of A Very Short Introduction: "... in one way or another we are all economists. ... As economics matters to us, we also have views on what should be done to put things right when we feel they are wrong. And we hold our views strongly because our ethics drive our politics and our politics inform our economics. .... I should ... offer an account of the reasoning we economists apply in order to understand the social world around us and then deploy that reasoning to some of the most urgent problems Humanity faces today." As it is fairly obvious from the quoted passage Partha Dasgupta is a concerned and ethical person; thus, he frames his discussions of many economic concepts, such as "grim strategy" (you come to know what strategy the overpaid executives of failing companies apply when planning to quit their positions) and "ideal market," with the life stories of his metaphorical grandchildren, Becky and Desta, representing the post-industrial developed society and the economically under-developed society respectively. Partha Dasgupta's narrative is at times dry - as one expects from a book of economics - but with the framing device of practical examples he added a breath of life to his exposition. I recommend this book to anybody who has always been interested in economics but has not had much time to read a lengthy book of economics.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why I Assign This Book to Freshmen Jan. 15 2012
By James B. Delong - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a game theorist's short introduction to economics. It focus on on: individual goals, individual opportunities and constraints, individual incentives, strategies, exchange, trust, and equilibrium outcomes. It is, of course, greatly concerned with wealth and poverty--that is, after all, the point of the discipline of economics: it is an inquiry into nature and causes of the wealth of nations. You won't find lots of practice figuring out how price and quantity change in response to demand shocks or calculating multipliers. What you will find is the logic and rationale for why figuring out how price and quantity change in response to demand shocks or calculating multipliers is a worthwhile thing to do.

Definitely five stars.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars broad and informative Feb. 23 2010
By manuelfisica - Published on
Awesome book.

If you want a textbook, get something else...

The strengths of this book are: it avoids the trap of doing a developed-world only description, it really allows you to appreciate how economists think, it ties economic concepts to concepts from other disciplines. It can get technical sometimes for the least mathematical readership, but still a must read.

Chapter 5 alone justifies buying the book (Science and technology as institutions).
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not always clear Aug. 2 2010
By T. Williams - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is probably not the best intro to economics book (i.e. it is a little too concise in places), but I liked it nevertheless. Overall, the author did do a great job explaining ideas given that it was intended to be so short. I feel like I have a much better understanding now of why the quality of life is so different between "rich" and "poor" nations. The main draw back is that there's little to no iteration i.e. I usually learn by being exposed to a concept or term several times but in this short book there's no room for that - you're told about a concept once (if at all). Regardless, this book is interesting and does makes you want to learn more about the subject, so I think you ought to give it a try.
30 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The extent of the market depends on trust Feb. 2 2009
By Declan Trott - Published on
Not so long ago, economics had a major image problem. University enrolments were down, and the public impression of an economist was of a heartless,graph-wielding, bean-counter. I am not sure if enrolments are higher today, or if economists are better liked. Yet in the publishing world, it is an undeniable fact that popular economics has become much more, well, popular.

The professional reaction to this commercial popularity has not been one of uniform gratitude. One must assume a certain amount of jealousy towards the fame and fortune of the lucky first movers. Yet there is also a feeling that some of the best-sellers have trivialised economics, titillating the reader with sex and drugs while neglecting the more important insights of the discipline.

Nobody could accuse Partha Dasgupta of deepening this rut. In this Very Short Introduction, he has taken as his theme the original mystery of economics: the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. And he motivates the study not with unadorned GDP statistics but by comparing the lives of two young girls: Becky, who lives in an affluent American suburb, and Desta, the daughter of Ethiopian farmers. Why do two children, born so much alike, live such different lives?

The question is compelling, and presents an opportunity to explore many branches of economics, in a concrete and relevant way. Unfortunately, Dasgupta does not use it consistently. While there are many references to `Desta's world' and `Becky's world', these are too often brief appendages to abstract discussions of agents A, B and C and factors X, Y and Z. At times one could be reading a textbook, except there are no problem sets, fewer graphs, and the pictures are in black and white.

This is a great pity, because there is a deep, coherent and insightful argument at the core of the book. One might begin with the proposition: wealth depends on the division of labour, and the division of labour is limited by the extent of the market. But the extent of the market is not limited only by transport and taxes. It is limited also by trust: by the rules and expectations that allow cooperation for mutual gain between people who do not know each other. And these rules and expectations, particularly the expectations, are hard to build but easy to destroy. If prospects for the future become less bright, even for trivial or fallacious reasons, the balance may tip from cooperation to conflict very quickly.

This has become a cliché in Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Iraq: political uncertainty resurrects dormant divisions and peaceful neighbours become killers. Less dramatically, such calculations restrict the number of people any individual can trust and trade with. The `community' is a natural boundary: a group which people are born into, with no easy exit, makes the penalties for cheating higher and more certain.

Yet on their own, such communities have their limits. They are small, so they limit the division of labour.Their members face the same risks, so insurance is difficult. And saving and investment opportunities are more limited.

Markets can overcome these problems by allowing much larger numbers of people to cooperate. But these large numbers cannot rely on personal ties, so establishing the necessary trust is much more difficult. This may not be a problem with some goods -- Desta's father sells grain on the local market without any problems -- but insurance, credit and employment are a different matter. Man may have a natural propensity to truck, barter and exchange, but not for banking or wage labour.

While trust, and its implications for communities, markets, households and firms, is the key content of the book, other subjects are considered: the history of economic growth, science and technology, sustainability and democratic decision-making. There is little to argue with in these chapters, but they are abstract and ad hoc, and not linked to the rest of the book.

The Very Short Introduction series is advertised as being for `anyone wanting a stimulating and accessible way into a new subject'. Stimulating, yes. Accessible? I am not so sure. Popular economics is supposedly aimed at the whole literate population, or at least the university-educated, newspaper-reading part of it. Dasgupta seems to equate this with his fellow Cambridge professors and their brightest students. And it is a shame, because the intellectual content of the book, combined with the Becky/Desta device, had the potential for a truly great and accessible introduction to economics.

-Originally published in Agenda 14(3), 2007.

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