Trying to follow the key macroeconomic debates that are swirling around DC, CNBC, the WSJ and the NYT? If you are but don’t want to go back to graduate school or re-open your college macroeconomics textbook, John Quiggin has a solution. His Economics in Two Lessons: Why Markets Work So Well, and Why They Can Fail So Badly (Princeton University Press, 2019) achieves several goals. First, it frames the current debates, providing a concise, well-written history of macroeconomics and the key twists and turns in economic policy that have brought us to our current state of (general) disagreement on economic policy. Second, he structures his view of macroeconomics as a rebuttal to a 1946 book by Henry Hazlitt called Economics in One Lesson. Seventy years later, Quiggin counters Hazlitt’s view that markets are “correct,” in that their prices accurately reflect opportunity costs for buyers and sellers. Quiggin’s second lesson highlights the externalities and factors that distort those opportunity costs and lead to suboptimal outcomes such as extended unemployment, excessive income inequality, and the seemingly intractable problem (from an economics perspective) of pollution. In the final portion of his book, Quiggin argues what policies he thinks would make markets work better by generating a more accurate understanding of opportunity costs. To some, his prescriptions will look like the program of the Left. The great irony is that his goal is to make markets function better, not rid us of them. Whether you agree with his prescriptions or not, this is a very interesting book and a great way for non-economists to get up to speed on current debates and policy issues without having to do a single test for statistical significance or worry about heteroscedasticity.
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