Learning about economics

I’ve seen a lot of threads on this forum over the years dealing with economic issues and a lot of people, especially Friedemann and Steve, seem to have a pretty good hold on them. Being embarrassingly ignorant of economics myself, I was hoping those more knowledgeable than I might be able to point me in the direction of some good, interesting books that would help me get a foothold into this massive area of study. I’m not necessarily after an “Introduction to Economics”-type book, as I imagine it would probably be quite dry and aimed more at university students studying formally (plus I could easily find one myself through Amazon or some such site), but if there are any good layman, popular books that cover relevant and important issues to modern economies that you think are worth reading, please let me know! I’d like to be able to read some of these threads here (the recent tax one being a good example) and not just have some clue as what the heck is going on, but actually be able to contribute in some way. Right now I’m just reading and nodding my head with a red face.

If I were you, I would read the political and financial articles of my favourite newspapers, and then look up any terms you are not sure of on the internet (or in a relevant university textbook, as mentioned above).

Aside from that, I would say:

  • Get a basic idea of concepts like supply and demand, and their relationship with each other (this may involve looking at / studying graphs).

  • Get a basic grasp of interest rates, inflation, GDP, currencies, banking etc. (i.e. how are these things affected / how do these things affect the economy).

  • Get a basic idea of imports and exports (i.e. what factors encourage one or the other, what effects do one or the other have on the economy).

  • Get a basic idea of the role the government plays in controlling / stimulating etc. the economy.

I still think reading a paper of interest and looking up terms would be the easiest way to go about it, as it’s context-driven. And of course there are specific papers / magazines that could be more relevant, e.g. The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times (which is available in many countries, I believe), The Bulletin (an Australian magazine). Also, there is a French website called ‘Le Journal Du Net’ which might be useful, though I don’t know how credible it is in France. Oh, last thing, Wikipedia should be able to provide quite in-depth definitions of a lot of the terminology involved.

I had never heard of ‘Le Journal du Net’, but there are also ‘Les Echos’ and ‘La Tribune’ which I think are more known. Doesn’t mean they’re better, though.

Let me say right off the bat that I am not an expert on economics. Like you I am very interested in it though because economic trends really shape our world. I don’t have a lot respect for economics whenever it portrays itself as a “science” on par with chemistry and physics. I think the core principles of science are very difficult to apply in economics. The other issue I have with economics is that only very few economists seem to understand the physical workings of our world (that is biology, chemistry and physics) and don’t understand that their assumptions sometimes conflict with these hard sciences.

I always find Wikipedia to be a good starting point, good luck!

Thank you very much for the suggestions, I will definitely look into those resources Peter provided.

One other thing: is it worth brushing up my maths before delving into this field?

During my time studying economics subjects at university, I don’t remember there being any need for anything other than very basic maths (except for some of the accounting subjects I did).

If you’re comfortable with times tables, percentages, fractions etc. you should be fine. I’d say a lot of economics is theory, in the end.

As per Friedemann’s comments, Economics is often categorised as a science, but I don’t really agree with that either. I remember my teachers telling me: “It’s the science of human behaviour”…

I am always amazed at the nature of exponential growth. Just make yourself a little excel spreadsheet and a formula which adds x percent to a cell’s value and writes the result in the cell below. Do this n-times (for n years that is), play with the percentage x and you’ll learn a lot about personal economics like loans or mortgages but also about the implications of continued global exponential economic growth.

Peter, I would suggest you google, and why not look for something in French, kill two birds with one stone.

One good point Friedemann makes about starting with WIkipedia, is undoubtedly you can read the same article in all of your target languages. It may help your “mental model” of the economics it describes solidify better to read the articles multiple times, and its good practice for your languages.

www.mises.org is the Austrian school of economics’ site. It the only school to have predicted the crisis years in advance. They are also, however, marginalized because they do not support state expansion. Nor do they produce mathematical models that try to pin down human behavior. They rely on logic and start from principles so you don’t have to learn advanced math to stomach what they are saying, unlike many of the other schools.

Mcattack,

I would argue that the authors of “Limits To Growth” are the true visionaries of our time, who by the way have been at the receiving end of a lot of ridicule and have unfortunately been proven right in their analysis time and time again.

The Austrian school of economics has only very little to contribute in solving the problems at hand.

I agree with what Peter says, the financial parts of newspapers would be a great start. Also, if you searched the financial crisis on wikipedia, that’d get you into it as that will cover the key aspects and what can go wrong with the economy, and of course link to another article on an aspect you don’t understand. It’s really not that complicated when you start taking an interest in it.

A book most economists read is The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. It’s been a while since I read it but I don’t remember it being too technical or involved. Also, John Maynard Keynes is the key figure in economics, as a lot of policy decisions are said to be “Keynesian economics”. I couldn’t suggest a certain book to read, but if you came across one explaining Keynes and his impact then it should be worthwhile reading.

I self-study economics for my personal goal of managing my investments. I invest primarily in commodities and foreign currencies. I tried doing a distance learning course through the London School of Economics but I found it a waste of time with regard to my personal goals of anticipating movements of prices in commodities and currencies. Like Mcattack, I follow the Austrian school and it is the only one that makes any sense to me and the only one that led me to profitable trades. An added benefit was the ability to understand years in advance how and approximately when the financial crisis would unfold. When I was starting out, I read an online financial newsletter called dailyreckoning.com (French: La Chronique Agora) that introduced me to the concepts of the Austrian school.