An elegant, authoritative primer on the basic theories and workaday practices of economics, which bridges the insight gap between piecemeal press reports and the numbing technical detail of academic studies. An old saw has it that if all economists were laid end to end, they would never reach a conclusion. But Silk, a member of the editorial board of the New York Times and holder of a Ph.D. in economics, breaks this chain. Indeed, he offers confident judgments on a welter of global events and pocketbook issues. Silk maintains, for example, that the dollar devaluations of 1971 and 1973 intensified inflationary pressures in the US because, among other factors, the relatively cheap prices of American commodities attracted overseas buyers already discomfited by upheavals in the international monetary system. ""Scarcity is what economics is all about,"" the author states. ""Scarcity and choice."" Expanding on this theme, Silk presents a number of case studies to illustrate the impact of economics on government, business, and society. Also valuable are summaries of the views of such pioneering economists as Malthus, Marx, Ricardo, and Smith, plus those of their modern successors--Friedman, Galbraith, Greenspan, Heller. In addition, Silk devotes a chapter to definitions of key terms (consumption function, marginalism, opportunity cost, profit system, and the like), noting that laymen can ask economists to get rid of their discipline's jargon but not the concepts on which it is based. Beyond the ABCs, Silk addresses the ethics of economic behavior, and specifically the nagging question of how to reconcile efficiency and equity. In any event, Silk's deft touch transforms Carlyle's ""dismal science"" into a lively, vital subject for those still puzzled by the terms of trade.