Finally, we can say that 2020 is over. Current economic events have been as challenging to conventional wisdom and orthodox thinking as they have proved, the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated hardships have left the world grasping anew for understanding. Stuck inside, with hours available to read, we can take some small comfort in the fact that the still-boiling economic arguments of the past decade continue to provide us with new books, including some with quite a lot to say about our present circumstances. Pyoflife.com identifies the best economics books in the world, based on recommendations by thought leaders and experts. Let’s talk about the economics books of 2020.
1. Unsustainable Inequalities: Social Justice and the
The author, co-director of the World Inequality Lab at the Paris School of Economics, is one of a group of French economists who have put inequality on the intellectual map. In this short book, the author analyses the links between environmental and economic inequality. His conclusion is that we cannot solve one without addressing the other. An original perspective on two of our most significant contemporary challenges.
2. Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism
This book builds upon the seminal finding of the two authors that the mortality rates of middle-aged white Americans stopped falling in the 21st century and for the non-college-educated, in particular, have since been rising. The perversities of America’s profit-driven healthcare system do much to explain the rising death rate. The failings of modern American capitalism helped create despair. Behind both, the deaths and despair is the role of money in US politics. This book is of the highest importance.
3. More: The 10,000 Year Rise of the World Economy
How did humanity transform the world over the last 10,000 years? Philip Coggan of The Economist provides a comprehensive and lucid account of this transformative achievement. At the bottom, the transformation has been economic. Humanity has created an increasingly productive and also unprecedentedly global economy. These two achievements are closely related and behind both lies something powerful and wrongly unpopular: international trade.
4. Democracy and Globalization: Anger, Fear, and Hope
This study of the relationship between democracy and globalisation argues that, as globalisation disrupts democracy we need to “globalise democracy”. Thus, the authors argue for the more representative, effective and accountable government at local, national, continental and global levels, via novel combinations of direct democracy, representative government and rule by experts. This is an idealistic, but also logical, direction for humanity to go. But will it?
5. Poverty is Not Natural
George Curtis has a soft spot for Henry George. So do I. George famously argued that landowners are among the biggest gainers from economic progress. Yet they do not create that wealth. They benefit from the investments, ingenuity and labour of others. The answer, George suggested, was to transfer the increased value of land into the hands of the public. Curtis agrees with this proposal, as do I. It would not solve all our economic and social problems. But it would help.
6. The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and How to Build a Better Economy
The modern monetary theory has become a driving idea of the modern left. The government, proponents argue, can print as much money as it wants to fund whatever it wishes. The only constraint is excess demand and so inflation. This book by a prominent advocate is going to be influential. In my view, it is right and wrong. It is right because there is no simple budget constraint. It is wrong because it will prove impossible to manage an economy sensibly once politicians believe there is no budget constraint.
7. China and the Future of Globalization: The Political Economy of China’s Rise
The rise of China is the greatest political and economic event of our era. Grzegorz Kolodko, a former finance minister of Poland, has produced a thoughtful, balanced and penetrating analysis of the global implications. He is particularly concerned by the desire of the US to turn China into an enemy. But, he notes, “China does not wish to turn other countries into foes . . . It’s astounding, but China seems to better understand what’s at stake at the current civilizational crossroads.” Alas, he is right.
8. Brand New Nation: Capitalist Dreams and Nationalist Designs in Twenty-First-Century India
This is an original and highly provocative book by an Indian academic who teaches in Copenhagen. Its idea is that India is being repackaged into a national brand to be sold to foreign investors. This, Kaur argues, is part of “an ongoing historical shift — the capitalist transformation of the nation-state wherein the logic of capital is the glue holding the nation and state together”. This project, she argues, both explains and justifies Narendra Modi’s otherwise surprising blend of Hindu cultural nationalism with pro-business policies.
9. What’s Wrong with Economics: A Primer for the Perplexed
This is an important and fundamentally correct critique of the core methodology of economics: individualistic; analytical; ahistorical; asocial; and apolitical. What economics understands is important. What it ignores is, alas, equally important. As Skidelsky, famous as the biographer of Keynes, notes, “to maintain that market competition is a self-sufficient ordering principle is wrong. Markets are embedded in political institutions and moral beliefs.” Economists need to be humbler about what they know and do not know.
10. 2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape The Future of Everything
We do not know what the world will look like in 2030. But we do know the underlying trends that will shape it, argues Guillén of the Wharton School. This thought-provoking book illuminates the most important: demographic shifts, notably the African baby boom; the changing nature of ageing and retirement; the emergence of a new global middle class; the rise of women as entrepreneurs and leaders; the challenges to cities; “more cell phones than toilets”; the sharing economy; and the future of money. It is fun. Enjoy.
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