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Economics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

Partha Dasgupta
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Book Description

5 February 2007 Very Short Introductions
Economics has the capacity to offer us deep insights into some of the most formidable problems of life, and offer solutions to them too. Combining a global approach with examples from everyday life, Partha Dasgupta describes the lives of two children who live very different lives in different parts of the world: in the Mid-West USA and in Ethiopia. He compares the obstacles facing them, and the processes that shape their lives, their families, and their futures. He shows how economics uncovers these processes, finds explanations for them, and how it forms policies and solutions.

Along the way, Dasgupta provides an intelligent and accessible introduction to key economic factors and concepts such as individual choices, national policies, efficiency, equity, development, sustainability, dynamic equilibrium, property rights, markets, and public goods.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

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Review

An excellent introduction... presents mathematical and statistical findings in straightforward prose. (Financial Times)

I wish more people would read Dasgupta's book, and I wish more economists would write variations on its theme. It is a model specimen. (www.economicprincipals.com)

The text is direct, rigorous and thought-provoking. It provides an intelligent, rigorous and readable introduction to economics. (London Book Review.com)

About the Author

Partha Dasgupta is Frank Ramsey Professor of Economics, University of Cambridge and Fellow of St John's College. His book, An Inquiry into Well-Being and Destitution (OUP, 1993) was praised as 'a tour de force... a model of good economics' (Joseph Stiglitz) and 'philosophically sophisticated, empirically well-informed, ambitious and lively' (James Griffin).

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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A short but ethical introduction to economics 23 July 2007
By Harumi O. Moruzzi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Partha Dasgupta writes in his Preface of A Very Short Introduction: "... in one way or another we are all economists. ... As economics matters to us, we also have views on what should be done to put things right when we feel they are wrong. And we hold our views strongly because our ethics drive our politics and our politics inform our economics. .... I should ... offer an account of the reasoning we economists apply in order to understand the social world around us and then deploy that reasoning to some of the most urgent problems Humanity faces today." As it is fairly obvious from the quoted passage Partha Dasgupta is a concerned and ethical person; thus, he frames his discussions of many economic concepts, such as "grim strategy" (you come to know what strategy the overpaid executives of failing companies apply when planning to quit their positions) and "ideal market," with the life stories of his metaphorical grandchildren, Becky and Desta, representing the post-industrial developed society and the economically under-developed society respectively. Partha Dasgupta's narrative is at times dry - as one expects from a book of economics - but with the framing device of practical examples he added a breath of life to his exposition. I recommend this book to anybody who has always been interested in economics but has not had much time to read a lengthy book of economics.
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why I Assign This Book to Freshmen 15 January 2012
By James B. Delong - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a game theorist's short introduction to economics. It focus on on: individual goals, individual opportunities and constraints, individual incentives, strategies, exchange, trust, and equilibrium outcomes. It is, of course, greatly concerned with wealth and poverty--that is, after all, the point of the discipline of economics: it is an inquiry into nature and causes of the wealth of nations. You won't find lots of practice figuring out how price and quantity change in response to demand shocks or calculating multipliers. What you will find is the logic and rationale for why figuring out how price and quantity change in response to demand shocks or calculating multipliers is a worthwhile thing to do.

Definitely five stars.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars broad and informative 24 February 2010
By manuelfisica - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Awesome book.

If you want a textbook, get something else...

The strengths of this book are: it avoids the trap of doing a developed-world only description, it really allows you to appreciate how economists think, it ties economic concepts to concepts from other disciplines. It can get technical sometimes for the least mathematical readership, but still a must read.

Chapter 5 alone justifies buying the book (Science and technology as institutions).
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not always clear 3 August 2010
By T. Williams - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is probably not the best intro to economics book (i.e. it is a little too concise in places), but I liked it nevertheless. Overall, the author did do a great job explaining ideas given that it was intended to be so short. I feel like I have a much better understanding now of why the quality of life is so different between "rich" and "poor" nations. The main draw back is that there's little to no iteration i.e. I usually learn by being exposed to a concept or term several times but in this short book there's no room for that - you're told about a concept once (if at all). Regardless, this book is interesting and does makes you want to learn more about the subject, so I think you ought to give it a try.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Economics in the Very Short Introduction Series 10 November 2013
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Very Short Introductions series of Oxford University Press provides succinct introductions to more subjects than a person can reasonably hope to know. Parath Dasgupta offers a brief, pointed look at Economics in this 2007 volume in the series. Dasgupta is the Frank Ramsey Professor of Economics at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge. Dasgupta was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his work in economics and has written many important books and studies.

"A little learning is a dangerous thing"; and a "very short introduction" does not have to be easy. Dasgupta's book is not written "for dummies" and it does not present its subject in the manner of an introductory textbook. Instead, Dasgupta offers the lay reader an example of how economists define problems and issues and try to solve them. In other words, the book offers the reader an example of how to "think like an economist". This gives the book a dense character. Dasgupta develops his own way of approaching and his position of questions of economics, neither of which might be fully shared by all members of his profession.

At the outset, Dasgupta makes two broad worth noting. First, he ties in economics with politics and, especially with ethics. Unlike some scientists who might try to minimize ethical, philosophical questions, Dasgupta is quite clear that ethical commitments are a driving force behind economics and politics. The second point involves Dasgupta's approach to economic questions. He rejects a historical, "narrative" approach because of the difficulty of supporting one proposed "narrative" over another. Dasgupta's approach is heavily analytical and quantitative, relying on mathematical modeling, statistics, and game theory. He tries to identify and weigh the factors involved in economic growth.

The material is daunting, but Dasgupta presents it well, if briefly. He enlivens his account by telling a story. Dasgupta introduces the reader to two fictitious girls, , Becky, 10, who lives with her parents in the American Midwest and Desta, 10, who lives with her family in a village in tropical southwest Ethiopia. Becky's father is a successful attorney in a law firm while Desta's father is a subsistence farmer on a small plot. The family is heavily involved in the farming. Becky's family is prosperous, and she has dreams of excelling in school and becoming a doctor. Desta lives at subsistence level. She knows she will marry at a young age at the behest of her parents and be expected to continue in essentially the same harsh life in which she was raised.

Dasgupta tries to show why the circumstances in which Becky and Desta find themselves differ so markedly. He writes: "Economics in great measure tries to uncover the processes that influence how people's lives come to be what they are. The discipline also tries to identify ways to influence these processes so as to improve the prospects of those who are hugely constrained in what they can be and do. The former activity involves finding explanations, while the latter tries to identify policy prescriptions. Economists also make forecasts of what the conditions of economic life are going to be; but if the predictions are to be taken seriously, they have to be built on an understanding of the processes that shape people's lives; which is why the attempt to explain takes precedence over forecasting."

Dasgupta examines the economic factors that shape Becky's and Desta's lives in a series of chapters that include local, national, and international considerations. He begins with the concept of "trust" in economic activities between people which he develops using game theory modeling. In subsequent chapters, he considers communities, markets and households, trying to develop and explain factors common to both the United States and the Ethiopian village. He presents an important chapter on science and technology and on the institutional structures which allow their development. The book becomes broader in scope and probably more controversial in the latter chapters as Dasgupta describes hidden environmental costs, human capital, and natural resources such as air, water, and the ocean fishery in ways that the author claims are not usually followed by other economists. He discusses inequities in the distribution of wealth between the two countries he considers in addition to growing disparities between rich and poor in the United States and other developed nations. He also tries to tie economics in to politics and to the structure of government, based on the virtues of democracy and majority rule.

The book shows an economist thinking and practicing his discipline in a way a lay reader can, with effort, understand rather than offering an overview. The book helped me understand how an economist works. Dasgupta helped me see different ways of thinking about important matters, which is a worthwhile accomplishment and the goal of a "very short introduction".

Robin Friedman

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