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The wisdom in 50 Economics Classics

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Published last May 2017, 50 Economics Classics (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London; 2017) is the latest in the series of great books distilled into one volume and written by Tom Butler-Bowdon, an accomplished author and literary critic. Previously published volumes in the series include 50 Philosophy Classics, 50 politics Classics, 50 Prosperity Classics and 50 Success Classics. 50 Economics Classics is your shortcut to the most important ideas on capitalism, finance and the world economy.

In paperback, it has 50 chapters, 360 pages, seven pages of 50 More Economics Classics for those in need of further inquiry, then two pages of chronological list of titles; three pages of book editions used in researching this book and, finally, a page of acknowledgements. The 50 Classics series has sold over 300,000 copies. This Economics volume is the smart person’s guide to two centuries of conversation on the global economy.

From Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations to Thomas Piketty’s bestselling Capital in the Twenty First Century, here are the great bards, seminal ideas and texts clarified and illuminated for all. This book is all the more relevant, coming as it does during Nigeria’s period of economic turmoil and depression. Economics may drive the modern world but sadly, we lack the knowledge of the ideas, thinkers and writings, which constitute the discipline.

Spanning 50 books, hundreds of ideas and two centuries in time, 50 Economics Classics is an enquirer’s guide to the global economy; taking you on a journey from the Industrial Revolution to the second machine age of the internet and artificial intelligence. This is neither a history nor an encyclopedia of economics. This is only a guide to the great thinkers and their seminal ideas, old and new.

When in 1765, Edmund Burke (1729- 1797) said, “The age of Chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded,” he was right that economics, finance and money are at the heart of modern civilization in the way honour, chivalry and religion were to the Middle Ages. If in the past a person’s fate was settled by the social circumstances of his birth, today each of us is at the mercy of economics, for we must produce things of market value if we are to survive and thrive. “All your life,” Economist Paul Samuelson said, “from cradle to grave and beyond – you will run up against the brutal truths of economics.”

The importance of economics is that it is at the root of human prosperity. If voting gives freedom and power in theory; in practice, it means little if we cannot even sustain ourselves and our families. Which is why cracking the code of economic prosperity for a person, firm or nation is crucial to peace and well-being of the people. 50 Economics Classics gives you the knowledge to make you prosperous as a person or nation. John Maynard Keynes, the creator of the Keynesian economic superstructure, thought economics was built so we could enjoy the good things in life.

To Keynes, this was only possible with a stable and growing economy in which the damaging cycles of boom and bust were ironed out. Economists, Keynes said, are the trustees, not of civilization but of the possibility of civilization. The economist Hyman Minsky warned that unless it is well regulated, capitalism will eventually go to extremes and produce instability. He went on to say that only an economics that is critical of capitalism could be a guide to successful policymaking. Until economic policy stops being a tool for one group’s advantage, it will be hard for capitalism to fully realise its goal of increasing the well-being of all.

This book by Butler-Bowdon is a terrific compendium of the greatest books ever written on finance, economics and prosperity from famous classics to the hidden and distilled to the point of poignant clarity. Butler-Bowdon is the one who announced to the world in 50 Prosperity Classics the arrival of Donald Trump on the world stage as the 47th greatest thinker on prosperity. And by his victory as the 45th president of the United States, Trump validated Butler-Bowdon ‘s foresight.

The only African writer in the pack is Liaquat Ahamed, author of Lords of Finance. In 2010, Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, Ben Bernanke, was asked by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission what books he would recommend to understand the crisis. He mentioned just one, Lords of Finance, a work of economic history, which won the Pulitzer Prize in the same year.

Then Federal Reserve Bank’s investment adviser, Liaquat Ahamed, first had the idea for his book when reading a 1999 Time magazine story on the committee to save the world and the successful efforts of Alan Greenspan, then Federal Reserve Bank Chairman to stave off the Asian financial crisis, which threatened to bring down the global economy.

In a nutshell, Lords of Finance says fixed ideas in economics can have disastrous results. The world hung onto the gold standard long after it had stopped being a means of creating stability and growth in the world. Born in Kenya, Ahamed studied economics at Cambridge, U.K. and Harvard, U.S. He became economist to the World Bank before becoming the chief executive of a New York firm of economists.

Butler-Bowdon is most notable for the 50 Classics series, which provide key commentaries on the world of knowledge. An Australian by birth, Butler-Bowdon and, Vice President of Nigeria Yemi Osinbajo and this reviewer did graduate work together at London School of Economics. While Butler-Bowdon researched on public policy, Osinbajo did his own in the law of evidence while I did mine in public finance. Butler-Bowdon gained experience while advising various Australian prime ministers. It was in the course of his job that he discovered the need for the Classics series. The author sent me the book shortly before it was published last May. I recommend the book for Aso Villa economic management group, if there is any.


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