Re: [OPE-L] Intro to economics

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Fri Dec 23 2005 - 10:14:37 EST

> My 20 year-old daughter asked me yesterday what she should read if
> she wanted to get an introduction to economics without taking the
> reputedly "ridiculously boring" first-level courses available at her
> college.
> I wonder what OPE-Lers would recommend.

Hi Paul A,

Well, a lot depends on what interests your daughter has and how
much of an elementary introduction you think she should be
started out with.  Since her complaint is with ridiculously boring
courses and texts, it'd start out by thinking about what is _not_

E.g. if she is an art student, I think she will find _Art Works: Money_
by Katy Siegel and Paul Mattick to be very far from boring.  If
reading that book gets her interested in the subject of economics
(both as a subject and a subject of critique) then it would be a good
place to start.

You don't have to suggest a treatise, after all, do you?

Another fun way of getting her to think about economics might be
to recommend a movie or movies.  E.g. you could suggest that she
watch "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price"   or  "They Live."
These are just two possibilities, there are many others.  Neither of
these movies could be accurately described as an "introduction to
economics" but they can be used as a medium for addressing
introductory economics questions.  I.e. they can be used as a means
to enter into a dialogue with her about economics issues and
have her begin to think about those issues for herself.  Neither
movie is ideal, but both are entertaining ("They Live", a science
fiction film that takes place in Los Angeles,  is more entertaining than
"Wal-Mart" a documentary, but WM raises in a more direct way a
number of contemporary economic issues.)

How about music?  I have toyed in the past with the idea of
submitting a course proposal on "Kinkonomics."  The idea was
to use the music of "The Kinks" (especially from the 1980s) as a
means towards the discussion of economic issues.  Whatever the
type of music your daughter likes, there is music that can be
used ... but it will take some thought and listening before you can
make recommendations.  Like watching movies, the key here would
be to _follow-up_  the entertainment with discussion.

[btw, you and others on the list, more so than your daughter, might
enjoy the music of "RED SHADOW, THE ECONOMICS ROCK
AND ROLL BAND."   The band was made up of URPE members
who I believe were all UMass-Amherst students.  I have two LPs
-- "Live at the Panacea Hilton" (1975) and "Better Red" (1978) --
and they are both very good and funny.  I knew one of the band
members, Dan Luria, when I worked in the UAW Research
Department in Detroit in 1983 {brilliant guy with a sharp and biting
sense of humor; we clicked as soon  as I told him I was a New School
student}.  Of course, a lot of  the lyrics are a bit dated, but if you
were a radical in the 1970s then I think you'll enjoy listening to this
music... if you find it.]

If you want to recommend an actual text,  there are problems --
imo -- with _all_ available choices.  Ken Cole's _Understanding
Economics_  (Pluto, 1995) is a possibility, but I don't like the
cartoon-like and chopped-up layout of the book.  _Understanding
Capitalism_  by Bowles, Edwards, and Roosevelt is a possibility
as well. It is well written and organized, covers all of the main subjects
(in a heterodox, non-Marxian way) and has good contemporary
statistics but a minimum of "ridiculously boring" graphs and
equations.  The late Bob Heilbroner's _The Worldly Philosophers_
is a decent and very entertaining popular introduction from a history
of thought perspective (in a way, he did with economics what Paul
DeKrauf  did for microbiology with _The Microbe Hunters_).  For _form_
I rather like _Socialist Economics in Dialogue_ (New York Labor News
Company, 1935, o-u-p) but it is _very_ old and there are conceptual
problems.  But, the casual conversational form is far from boring.  It's
too bad someone hasn't tried to update and improve it.

In solidarity, Jerry

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