Foundations of Economics: A Beginners Companion

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Effectively there is no commonly agreed borderline between i a set of topics within which all practitioners agree such as there is in natural science, eg. In economics the set of disagreement encompasses almost all of economic life. For instance a Keynesian and a Neoclassical economist do not even agree on the meaning of probability in a social setting! The point here is that if those who teach economics find it hard to agree with one another on basic things, is it not a trifle hypocritical to use textbooks which pretend that there is a set of answers and questions which students must learn to recite?

Or, equivalently, that economics students can be trained in the same way students of chemistry can? I think it is and this book is written with a sense of shame for such hypocrisy. It is also written with passion, though I hope without rashness. Of course there are those who think that passion gets in the way of sound reasoning; they would prefer the detached style of conventional texts. For my part I feel that taking emotion and controversy out of economics is responsible for losing a great deal of analytical power. The greatest thinkers to have tackled economics were motivated by debates so passionate that their emotions were stirred until new ways of understanding economic relations emerged.

The danger is that the way we teach economics today has become so banal that the brightest are bored and leave the discipline early for greener pastures. The future generation of economics graduates runs the risk of leaving University with a large box of tools and the motivation of a gravedigger. Perhaps the time has come to give these old emotions another stir.

The challenge for this book is to be stirring while respecting pedagogical constraints.


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Although I recognise that principles must be well understood before criticised indeed there is nothing more pointless than uninformed criticism , I take a different line: Learning social science is or at least ought to be radically different to learning how to walk. Whereas walking is best learnt mechanically, social theory is best imparted by critical thinking accompanied of course with large doses of rigorous training.

In social theory the two are parasitic on each other; rigour without critical thinking leads to bad theory while critical thinking without rigour reduces to blind moralism. The trick is to find a decent balance between the two. This book is the result of two related personal experiences. First came the experience of learning economics as a first year student at the University of Essex back in By golly it was boring!

So disheartening that I changed my degree and concentrated on mathematics. Only by an historical accident I returned to economics much later. The second experience was that of trying to teach first year students. How could I not inflict on them what was inflicted on me in ? With textbooks treating students as seals in need of training as opposed to humans in need of an education , and with all the interesting debates involving a terminology inaccessible to first year students, one is tempted to take the easy option: follow the Text.

My rebellion took the form of notes on the philosophical aspects of the various models in the Text.

by Varoufakis, Yanis

The idea was to animate economics; to give students a glimpse of it as a contested terrain on which armies of ideas clash mercilessly in order to win the argument. As the years went by, these notes grew. Eventually they insisted on being transformed into something bigger. You are holding the result.

All terms and concepts are introduced from first principles. It can be read by itself as an introduction to economic thinking. Or it can be utilised by University students who have chosen or who, as is increasingly common with some degrees, have been forced to take an introductory course in economics.

Foundations of Economics: A Beginner's Companion

The hope is that this book will be the place where you turn for inspiration, or for some hope that all your efforts to get on top of tutorials and assignments are not without meaning. A kind of friend you approach when the course gets you down and you need to pick yourself up again. A source of insights when you write essays. A companion who helps you see the forest when your face is pushed firmly into some tree. As you will notice in the Table of Contents which follows, there are two segments in this book: Book 1 and Book 2.

The former is the main segment and is devoted to the Foundations of economics. Have you been wasting your time thinking critically about economic ideas? Do they matter at all in the end? Has your mind been contaminated by a perverted way of thinking about the world?


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Book 1 begins with an Introduction Chapter 1 which offers an historical account of the rise of economics as well as a simple explanation of why economics textbooks look the way they do. The rest of Book 1 is divided into three Parts. There is one Part on the theory of how people choose between the different options available to them. The immediate repercussion of that theory is a model of consumer behaviour.

The second Part extends the theory to decisions taken by firms whose fortunes are determined in the jungle of the market. Finally the third Part takes a broader look at how well a capitalist economy functions and at its effects on distribution of well-being amongst people. A brief plan of the book. Book 1 ends with a Conclusion. What effect will this exposure to economics have on me as a person? Should I be bothering with economics at all?

Should I choose another course while there is still time? More precisely, Chapters 2,5 and 8 the first chapters in Parts 1,2 and 3 respectively offer a review of what the conventional textbook says on the respective segment. To avoid repetition, the discussion bypasses details in preference for the juicy ideas. Your textbook does not attempt this.

Foundations of Economics by Yanis Varoufakis | Waterstones

Well as you can imagine this is not so. By excavating the history of these concepts we can succeed in demystifying them. And there is nothing like de-mystification to give one sufficient confidence when one tries to learn. Chapters 4,7, Here you have arrived at the subversive bit. These are chapters which challenge the concepts in the textbook. Unlike the latter, which tries to avoid controversy like the plague, here we question everything. Why should we assume what the textbook asks us to assume so slavishly?

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What is the meaning of those assumptions? Could the free market, ie. Or is it the system of organising economic life most compatible with human nature? By asking the impertinent questions in Chapters 4,7 and 10 one gets a much better idea of what the concepts under scrutiny are: a little passion goes a long way in motivating analytical thinking; a motto which, as economists, we seem to have forgotten.

And if you remain unconvinced, then no one will have fooled you. While tackling the theory of demand or consumer theory , read Part 1. Once you have moved to the theory of supply or of the firm, production and markets turn to Part 2. Finally, there is Book 2 to turn to, not because it contains material that you are likely to encounter in your course, but for personal gratification!

Economics - Chapter 01: Foundations and Models


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