The Weekly Economist

Today’s post is a review of Lutheran author Ray Keating‘s book, The Weekly Economist: 52 Quick Reads to Help You Think Like an Economist.

The Weekly Economist Review

Ray Keating has made a great move in trying to improve economic understanding two or three pages at a time. Still, don’t let that easy approach make you think he’ll pull punches, because he doesn’t. No one could mistake him for a socialist or isolationist. This is definitely a conservative perspective addressing how a free market and capitalism reflect (and really are already regulated by) human behavior and decision-making.

This book covers a broad swath of economic topics and terms, including incentives, consumption, greed, enterprise, the GDP, scarcity, rationing, profits, property rights, etc. Each weekly lesson gives you a large concept to consider and/or discuss. Having spent a week or so reading this, I may need more time to go back and digest it some more.

I thought the book might start with some history, like basics of bartering or the rise of money, but it leaped right into addressing whether greed is the basis of capitalism. I would have preferred a little more time spent on that answer, particularly because the concept that business serves is easily forgotten in the cacophony of public discourse. Also, I would have liked a little more exploration into how labor and capital balance as well as benefit each other.

If Mr. Keating turns The Weekly Economist into a series, here are some of my lingering questions and concerns.

  • As someone who has been in a position to set my own prices, and as someone who relies on my husband’s income, I could set any price I want. Doesn’t price gouging exist? Scams certainly exist. Sure, it’s more likely to result in a quick buck than a lasting business, but aren’t some people ultimately in business for a quick buck?
  • Now that so much shopping is done over the Internet, doesn’t that affect quality control? And since many customers will never be repeat-customers, doesn’t that also negatively affect the balancing powers of spenders? Customer dissatisfaction doesn’t negate a sale and false reviews can be bought with another quick buck.
  • What are the similarities and differences between necessities and luxuries? Doesn’t the lengthy amounts of time involved in things like food production undermine the market’s ability to quickly counter soaring prices?
  • Doesn’t the ability to live in debt undermine economic aspects that would otherwise act as a balance?
  • Why do people sometimes talk like markets will always be able to grow? There won’t always be new countries to expand into and people are divided on whether the global population is growing or decreasing.

While I hoped I could just hand this to my rising ninth grader, I’ll need to hold off a little longer. Or, put another way, topics from The Weekly Economist may be best for discussion rather than a weekly read aloud and that’s fair enough.  The book has political and cultural allusions she may not understand, and two to three pages makes it difficult to address some things at length. For example, there are quick references to single parent households and class warfare: my daughter wouldn’t know what makes a single parent household economically different than a single income household— In fact, I don’t either!—and class warfare could have been a topic or two itself. Zero sum game? Not a term we’ve thought to teach yet. 

If Mr. Keating were to try to write one of these for younger students, I’d be very interested to see how bartering and the development of money has affected economics and, to call up an older term, oikonomia, household management. What is “making a living”? Who is it for? Who is involved and why? What is “earning” and in what realms are earning important (or impossible)? How do children enter into economic issues? What are their behaviors and balancing powers? What are things to watch for or be on guard against?

I didn’t start this book thinking like an economist, but I’m getting closer. I feel better about investing in the stock market, grasping the concepts better, and now I seriously want to sign up for an entrepreneurial class! 

Thanks, Mr. Keating!


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