ECONOMICS DECIPHERED: A Layman's Survival Guide by Maurice Levi

ECONOMICS DECIPHERED: A Layman's Survival Guide

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Everything that a beginner's guide to a subject ought to be, this is not. It is wordy instead of concise; platitudinous instead of precise; circuitous instead of to-the-point. It is also lamely jocular--especially, unceasingly, on the subject of economists. It explains why Economics Is Important--as if readers were bored undergraduates (and repeatedly assures them, too, that it's all right to ask ""even the simplest-appearing questions""). Its question-and-answer format is often pegged, unhelpfully, on phony questions (""Does a monetarist believe that wage increases cannot cause inflation?""; ""Is international finance very difficult?""). In terms of specific content, some of its propositions are highly dubious: it defines full employment, for instance, as five-to-six percent unemployed--allowing for people (in ""a dynamic world"") who are ""between jobs."" It is out-of-date--in ways that might have been anticipated (e.g., as regards the adherence to 1967 buying patterns in tabulating the consumer price index). Most crucial, perhaps, its explanations are sometimes unnecessarily confusing--not just unclear--and also, to a degree, slanted. That the Gross National Product may be measured in two ways, either as money spent or money received, is never stated as such; rather, we have first the money-spent explanation, then a related topic, then a putative question: ""Are national income and gross national product the same thing?"" (""Yes, essentially. . . ."") Meanwhile Levi evades the significant recognition, in recent years, that GNP is not a measure of the quality-of-life; he merely touches upon the problem by saying, in a typical jest, that ""some of the 'goods' are 'bads.'"" And he is, finally, peddling a particular line--the supply-side view of economics: ""Economists get caught up in fads, but every now and then they discover where they should really be going."" Anyone who has been watching the recent tergiversations of Stockman & Co. may well wonder. But it's not what Levi says that's at fault here so much as his failure to put things as plainly as Leonard Silk (Economics in Plain English, 1978), as realistically as James Case (Understanding Inflation, p. 259), or, in the large, as comprehensibly as Robert Heilbroner (in Five Economic Challenges, p. 328, and earlier books).

Pub Date: May 29th, 1981
Publisher: Basic Books