Economics for all

OECD Observer

What if economics were within everyone’s grasp? Although you may feel that discussing Greece’s debt sustainability or Europe’s ageing problem is beyond your capabilities, Cambridge scholar Ha-Joon Chang strives to prove that you actually can.

With Economics: The User’s Guide, the author aims to give a short and easy lesson on economics to a large audience by reviewing some basic concepts and mechanisms such as labour and capital, while also refreshing our minds with a summary of the last two and half centuries of economic history.

But do not let this apparently neutral title mislead you. Beyond providing a user’s guide, Professor Chang’s book conveys a more political message: that "economics is too important to be left to professional economists". Cleverly provocative, the Cambridge professor mocks the experts who spend more time doing complicated calculations and abstract reasoning than actually looking into the concrete realities of firms.

Talking about his book at the OECD in February 2015, Prof Chang is scathing towards the world of finance and the failure of professional economists to predict the 2008 crisis. He believes that financial markets should be "strictly" regulated as they have become too powerful, and he denounces the "unholy" alliance between shareholders and professional managers.

Economics: The User’s Guide is a highly charged book which the author uses to place economics back into what he considers to be its original and rightful context, namely politics. After all, as Mr Chang insists, values rather than pure science underpin a government’s economic policies, with the result that efforts to find a way out of the crisis have at times led to contradictory approaches. Overall, the author wants to equip readers with a few tools to better understand what is going on in the economic sphere, so that they can indeed become more engaged in discussions and policy actions as well, even if they feel allergic to economic numbers. 

Chang, Ha-Joon (2014), Economics, The User’s Guide: A Pelican Introduction, Bloomsbury Press, New York. ISBN: 9780718197032

©OECD Observer No 302, April 2015

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