Saturday, April 7, 2012

How Should A Student Start Their Economics Library?

Books are often the products of the economics field.  Our field is also one that consistently builds upon its previous work.  I like to think of this feature as a long game of telephone with citations being the links between generations work.  There are many, but Eugene Fama is a good example of this.  He wrote a famous paper declaring that firm ownership is irrelevant, "Agency Problems and the Theory of the Firm."  He cites earlier work by Armen Alchian and Harold Demsetz, "Production, Information Costs, and Economic Organization," and Ronald Coase's landmark, "The Nature of the Firm" (amongst others).  So previous work can be considered an indispensable part of an economist's tool belt.  These are all academic articles, but even more so, books form the foundation of our economic academic knowledge.  With that in mind, which books should a student begin building his library with?

(photo: BBC)

Which books form the core of economics?  This question is probably as fraught with variation as economics itself.  Because much is still somewhat in debate, the books we have often inform those positions end up displaying those positions as well.  Here is my first attempt at a short list for students and beginners to the field:

The Basics of Economics:

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith
The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, David Ricardo
Value and Capital, J. R. Hicks
The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money, John Maynard Keynes
Principles of Economics, Alfred Marshall
Foundations of Economic Analysis, Paul Samuelson
Elements of Pure Economics, Leon Walras

Miscellaneous Economics:

Social Choice and Individual Values, Kenneth Arrow
The Calculus of Consent, James Buchanan & Gordon Tullock
The Theory of Interest, Irving Fisher
Monetary History of the United States, Milton Friedman & Anna Schwartz
Price Theory, Milton Friedman
Prices and Production, Friedrich Hayek
A Theory of Economic History, J. R. Hicks
Essays in Persuasion, John Maynard Keynes
Risk Uncertainty and Profit, Frank Knight
The Economics of Welfare, A.C. Pigou
Economic Analysis of Law, Richard Posner
Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Joseph Schumpeter
Interest and Prices, Knut Wicksell
Natural Value, Friedrich von Wieser


Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman
The Road to Serfdom, Friedrich Hayek
Human Action, Ludwig von Mises


A Treatise of Human Nature, David Hume
Second Treatise on Government, John Locke
The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand

These are just some recommendations for starting points.  Many of these books have seen their theories updated in more recent articles and being familiar with the following articles is also important.  Also, if an individual decides to specialize, for example in Monetary Economics, a larger range of books such as Inflation Targeting by Ben Bernanke, et al become essential works.  I've likely missed many and there are many jump off points in that list, so please feel free to add books in the comments section!

Most of these books are out of print and even somewhat rare, so finding them going from store to store might be a nightmare of a process.  Most book stores don't have dedicated economics sections and if they do they are usually lumped in with books on business so you'll have to sort through mountains of books by the likes of Jim Cramer and Suze Ormann to find one or two books (often these will be pop economics books rather than actual academic economics books).  There are some book websites that cater to used book buyers.  Alibris is one of these sites, but some of these books are quite rare so be prepared to spend a substantial amount of money (Elements of Pure Economics by Leon Walras being an example of a book that is quite essential and quite rare).

Building a library is also an academic discovery process so everyone's library will vary quite a bit, but this list is designed to give a basic understanding of what might make a good economics library.  My hope is that this can help be a small guide on that process.  I know as I've been on this process, I've looked for resources like this.  If I can be a small help to someone else, than this has worked.

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