Quick Book Review: Living Economics by Peter Boettke

There has been a great deal of buzz about this new book in the last few months. And as Dr. Boettke is both part of and has contributed to the respected GMU economics diaspora I picked it up.

[ Living Economics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow by Peter J. Boettke ]

If you look at the  The Independent Institute‘s site for the book you can see some of the many comments of praise for the book from some of the brightest minds in the field: James M. Buchanan, Jr., Israel M. Kirzner, Steven E. Landsburg, Vernon L. Smith, Steven G. Horwitz, and many more. That list is no joke. Something of an economics “Monsters of Rock.” ;-) (pic via Dr. Boettke)

The book is in one sense a layout of of the history of economic thought, it compares and contrasts some of the most significant opposing views on basic economics and market forces. It’s also a description of the progress and refinement of those thoughts. And lastly, Dr. Boettke explores his discoveries of how to best teach economics along with the proper role of the economist in society.

It’s a fine book for someone in the field, I’d say a must-read for grad students and even upper-level economics undergrads. And also a must-read for outsiders with a deep interest in the field. While I obviously enjoy the field of economics I’m far from an academic (only an econ BA and MBA). But be aware, while this is a fantastic book it is not Freakonomics, a title intended for the general public. There’s a fair amount of “inside baseball” that I expect will be confusing for those outside of academia. Don’t let that put you off, even in spite of that there’s still an overwhelming amount of good info in here.

[I’d been meaning to learn more about James Buchanan, there’s a nice section in here about the man.]

Note that when she wasn’t chewing on the molding, Dixie the Siberian Husky puppy even enjoyed the book.

[ Read the preface and chapter 1 for free, PDFs from The Independent Institute ]

And even if you don’t buy the book, I do strongly recommend chapter 1 for everyone, it’s absolutely brilliant and easily stands on its own.

Here are some items of note that caught my eye while reading:

1. The importance of the concept of scarcity. Perhaps the most fundamental concept in the field. And yet consistently tripped over. p. 10
2. Keynesianism as a “disease on the body politic,” suffering from the pretense of knowledge. p. 12
3. Efforts to intervene in markets as either hubris, opportunism, or both. p. 13

4. Exchange (voluntary) as positive-sum p. 24
5. Economics life exists before and without economists. Economists do not cause economics to happen. p. 25
6. “Economists are not responsible for the wealth of nations. but they can be responsible for the poverty of nations.”  p. 26

7. Trade-offs, relative prices, voluntary exchange, propety rights. p. 28
8.  “Fairness is about rules, not outcomes. Justice is about process, not end-states.” p. 50
9.  The welfare state as a giant circle with all of us having our hands in the pockets of our neighbors. p. 73

10. Socialism, both over-estimated and under-estimated. p. 76
11. A planned economy is a prohibited economy. p. 90
12. Tullock on “log-rolling” and “rent-seeking.” p. 127

13. Seatbelts and airbags. p. 132
14. “Politics is about concentrating benefits on the well-organized and well-informed interest groups, and dispersing costs on the unorganized and ill-informed masses.” p. 134
15.  Human action, but not human design. p. 147

16. Who would be against “reasonable regulation?” p. 160
17. “… in science as in love a concentration on technique is quite likely to lead to impotence.”  p. 176
18. von Mises on how economics is different from other sciences. p. 316

In short, it’s really a fantastic book. If you interested in the field you definitely need to pick this one up. My only word of caution is that if you’re completely new to the topics I’d grab a couple other titles first (Hazlitt, Sowell, etc.) and come back to this.

Additional links:
Dr. Peter Boettke’s site
Economics By and For Human Beings
Peter Boettke Discusses His Latest Book, “Living Economics”
Separation of School and State