Friday, June 24, 2011

Five unexpected economics books

Tim Harford is the author of The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life.

His new book is Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.

At The Browser, he discussed with Sophie Roell five unexpected economics books, including:
For the Win
by Cory Doctorow

Let’s move onto For The Win. I was intrigued to see this was classified as young adult fiction, and the assurance that it would “appeal to any enthusiastic player of MMO [Massively Multiplayer Online] games.”

Yes. The author, Cory Doctorow, is a really interesting guy. He is one of the founders of [the blog and former magazine] Boing Boing. He’s a campaigner for internet freedom and fair dealing in intellectual property rights. And he’s also an author – writing these young adult novels. I read this book because I was writing a column about the economies inside computer games – because these games are now so complex they do have their own economies. I read the novel for background, but I really grew to admire it. It is for young adults – it’s an adventure-action story, it’s not that complicated. But it’s very well done and conveys a lot of really interesting economic ideas very well. For instance there’s the impact of globalisation, the possibility of bubbles occurring in economic systems, the idea of the race to the bottom, of sweatshops and the role of unionisation. Really key economic ideas.

Of course there are a lot of economic ideas that are not in the book. I would also say that Cory is well to the left of where I am. He thinks trade unions are incredibly important – I’m not so sure. But I was very impressed by the way he could take this novel and convey all these economic ideas without slowing the action down. There have been people who have tried to create works of fiction with an economic message – notably Ayn Rand, who has just had a film made about her work – but Cory has really done it very well. It’s a tremendous and very admirable achievement.

The story is very empowering isn’t it? The protagonists take things into their own hands?

Like all good young adult fiction it’s about protagonists of about the same age as the reader getting things done and taking control. These are 16-to-18-year-old kids across the world who are expert computer game players and able to make money playing computer games. They have to deal with thugs and crimelords and the Chinese state trying to shut them down in various ways. In the end, it becomes something bigger than just trying to make money by playing games. It’s about rights for the workers who are playing these games and are being exploited. But it’s not an economics lesson, it’s an adventure story.
Read about another book Harford tagged.

Visit Tim Harford's website.

Tim Harford: top 10 undercover economics books.

The Page 69 Test: The Undercover Economist.

The Page 69 Test:The Logic of Life.

The Page 99 Test: Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.

--Marshal Zeringue