How I think of my own economics text
Why would you write a book if you didn’t think what you had to say was different from what others had to say? This is part of a letter I have written to my publisher who is about to publish the third edition of my Free Market Economics: an Introduction for the General Reader.
I will just restate that I think this book is the best introductory economics text in the world. It is the only book from which someone can actually learn how an economy works. It does so by being the only book that takes the economics taught back to classical times and explains economic theory in the way it was explained by the first great economists, from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill. I have now been teaching from this book for nine years and my students (around 1400 so far) truly do get it and since I teach a graduate course, two thirds of them have already done an economics course. I watch the mess that modern macro has created across the world with the various stimulus packages leaving major wreckage in their wake and have had no reason in all that time to reconsider a single word of anything I have written. That others who come to my text after having learned from some modern framework – whether Keynesian, monetarist or Austrian – cannot see the point is part of the problem since preconceptions and presuppositions make it almost – but not totally – impossible to see things in a different way. But the thing for me about this book is that its very existence gives me hope that others will eventually see the point. In some ways you might think I am teaching the economic theory of the past, but in my view I am teaching the economic theory of the future.
Modern economics is preferred by governments since it allows them to parcel out oceans of money disguised as economic stimulus. The failure of our economies and the fall in living standards which is becoming unmistakable is in no small part due to modern economic theory which was specifically understood in classical times as fallacious to its very core. I live in the modern world of economic mismanagement but mostly read textbooks which are now almost always at least a hundred years old if not much older than that. Here for your interest is the link to my article on the hundredth anniversary of Clay’s Economics which was published last year. This is the abstract:
Clay’s Economics was first published in 1916 with no pretensions to be anything more than just a summary of the state of economic theory as it then was. Yet so well was it written that it became one of the most widely used economics texts of its time, found on reading lists from workers’ colleges and mechanic’s institutes through to the leading universities of the world. Its interest today is therefore twofold. It is, firstly, a near-perfect summary of pre-Keynesian economic theory, incorporating Say’s Law, J.S. Mill’s theory of value and the classical theory of the cycle, along with many other of the most important features of the standard classical model. Secondly, the text makes clear how wrong Keynes in The General Theory had been in his description of what the economists he had described as “classical” had actually believed and taught. Even a century later, Clay’s Economics may well remain the single best introduction to economic theory ever written.
So if you don’t want to read my version you can always read his. And if you don’t like either, you can always try your luck with Mill.