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How Twelve Brilliant Minds Would Solve Today's Biggest Problems

by Linda Yueh

Pub Date: June 5th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-250-18053-7
Publisher: Picador

Invisible hand, meet trickle-down: a lightly learned but deep-reaching look at classic economic problems through the lens of classical economics.

Business schools across the land teach a set of canonical precepts: The free market is good and self-correcting, corporations have the sole duty of maximizing return for shareholders, and commerce is indifferent to larger matters of ethics. But are all those points true? Also, are they useful in addressing obdurate problems that seem custom-coined for our time, such as, in the face of economy-must-grow models, the future seems the province of low productivity and lower expansion? Enter BBC broadcaster and Oxford economist Yueh (China's Growth: The Making of an Economic Superpower, 2013, etc.), who turns to Robert Solow, “the author of the workhorse of economic growth models,” for guidance. She also goes against Solow and on to the ground of endogenous growth theory but returns with a humane prescription: Just as Solow located growth in, among other things, how workers are treated, maybe we can learn to retool. (Yueh adds that Solow, still at work in his 90s, also counsels relaxing some: “learning to adjust, to adapt, is not a bad thing for economists to learn.”) And what of quantitative easing in recessive economies? Well, throw Keynes into the mix, then see what Milton Friedman would say about whether increasing the monetary supply is the right thing to do. Concludes Yueh, with sidestepping befitting a careful economist, “it’s fair to say the jury is largely still out.” The author, who once ran for Congress as a kind of made-for-TV thought experiment, has solid, interesting things to say about globalization, human capital, and kindred matters and a correct sense for which economist to bring to the problem at hand, whether Paul Samuelson (“the last of the great general economists”) or Alfred Marshall, the anti-socialist who still supported redistribution—with qualifications.

A pleasure for the fiscally minded and a good introduction to applied economics for readers with a smattering of theory.