A Student’s Guide to Economics, review by Andrada Busuioc
Paul Heyne’s “Student’s Guide to Economics is, indeed, a guide. Meant to offer basic information for students not very familiarized with economics, the guide has the advantage of a clear and concise presentation of the economic thinking and thinkers since the beginnings of this science, considered, as most professionals agree, with Adam Smith.
As he himself declared, the book is addressed to students who only take economics for one or, at most, two semesters. Therefore, we might as well see the “Student’s Guide to Economics” as a textbook that could be used even in teaching.
To support this idea it is enough to have a look on the content of the guide – shortly, in about 50 pages, Heyne compresses the history of economics. And it does it so good that he even gives the definition of microeconomics and macroeconomics, he enounces the principles economics is based on and presents short biographies of the most important economists. He even makes an analysis upon the name “economics” and “political economy” and the history of the names. And he concludes it in a very funny way – How appropriate that someone named Jean Baptiste should have christened the new science!
Proving an excellent capacity in underlining the main contributions of each economist, Paul Heyne also has the ability to point out the subtleties regarding their work. The best example in this case is the observation towards Adam Smith’s work – “his questions were better than his answers, though”, Paul Heyne says.
Although throughout the entire book you can smell a scent of liberal thinking, Heyne has the incredible ability, which few people involved in the economic thinking world have, of being objective. The passage below shows how deepen the problems are discussed, in spite of the apparent simplicity of the book (or maybe just because of that, because providing basic information means looking at the issues as objective as possible): Economists have often reasoned about the operation of markets as if all the actors possessed all the knowledge they required to make decisions that they would not later come to regret. The interactions of demanders and suppliers were assumed to produce smooth and rapid movements of prices and resources to their equilibrium states, where all intentions are reconciled. While markets processes do indeed coordinate the intentions of actors in a manner that could almost be called miraculous, it is not in fact a miracle and it is consequently not as smooth and rapid as economists have too often assumed.
The book is full of this sort of passages in which the economic theory is explained in such a simple way that you might just ask yourself “Why didn’t I think about that?”. Detaching himself and his book of the stiff, complicated explanations given to different issues by the economists during the time, Heyne presents them in simple manner, suitable for “economics amateurs”. The vision upon the failure of the socialism and the centralized planning is probably the clearest of all, especially for somebody not familiarized with the complexity of economic process: “No one is omniscient”. Short and straight to the point.
Heyne’s guide it that type of book once you start reading, you won’t let go of until you finish it. And because the style in which it is written is amazing – clear, concise, easy to understand, simple and even funny – it only takes a couple of hours to read it. It gathers so much information that you are tempted to take a pencil and note down some ideas.
Unfortunately, there are some important issues Heyne omitted, even though they might be obvious only for the advanced in economics. And here I would only mention one great figure of the economic history – Ludwig von Misses – not once mentioned in the guide.
And probably the weak point of Heyne’s guide is its structure. While reading it I couldn’t notice a logical line, nor historical, nor based on the types of economic thinking currents. The ideas just seem to derive from one another. Surprisingly, it doesn’t bother the reader and for a while it’s not even noticeable (the writing style helps too, of course), but at some point you start to feel the need of systematization. And a clear structure is more a “must have” as it is meant to give basic information for people not quite familiarized with the field. Achieving knowledge is easier when information is systemized.
In spite of this lacks, the book remains a necessary instrument in understanding the science of economics. “A Student’s Guide to Economics” should be one of the top choices for anyone interested in this field.
Paul Heyne’s A Student’s Guide to Economics is available from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute here: http://www.isi.org/books/bookdetail.aspx?id=417b797a-f055-444e-9424-b1638e31d9f5