A summer reading list for students of Philosophy of Economics

I prepared this list for my Philosophy of Economics students (Erasmus School of Economics, Erasmus University Rotterdam). Most books in this list should be interesting even if you do not like philosophy of economics, but they are related to the topics we have discussed in class. Of course, they will be even more interesting if you put your philosopher of economics hat on. The list consists mostly of light books that you can read on the beach, in a hammock, on top of a mountain, or wherever you are fancying for the holiday. They are good books, nevertheless. I hope you will find this list useful and enjoy reading these books.

The reading list

The first group of books in the list is about economics, economists, and how models are used. The first book, Dani Rodrik’s Economics Rules gives a wonderful and easily digestible overview of how economics works. Rodrik is a prominent economist and in this book, he defends economics against criticism. However, he also criticises economists for misusing their models. Dani Rodrik’s overview closely relates to our discussion concerning models and explanation in economics. This is a very good book. The second book by Diane Coyle, The Soulful Science, gives an overview of what economists actually do. Although it is a bit outdated, its overview of research areas in economics is very useful—especially if you are considering pursuing a career that involves research. Roger Backhouse’s The Puzzle of Modern Economics paints a picture of economics as a powerful science by discussing how economic models are used by economists in practice. This is not a bestseller. In fact, many people do not know that this book exists, but it is a very good book.  The last book in the list also discusses how economic models are used in practice. Alvin Roth received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2012. His book, Who Gets What—and Why, gives a highly readable and moderately enjoyable story of how economists design markets. The whole book about to the following question we discussed during the lectures: what are the conditions under which we can carry the lessons we learn from models to the real world?

Picture1 Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science by Dani Rodrik
Picture2 The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why It Matters  by Diane Coyle
Picture3 The Puzzle of Modern Economics: Science or Ideology? by Roger E. Backhouse
Picture4 Who Gets What ― and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design by Alvin Roth

Next in our list are two books that are closely related to the several topics we have discussed in class. Both talk about the crowding-out effect of monetary incentives, touch on criticisms concerning rational choice and game theory, discuss several experiments, etc. Both books also discuss the moral and policy implications of economic models and the assumptions we employ. The Moral Economy requires a more careful reading. Thus, I suggest starting with The Why Axis.

Picture5 The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives Are No Substitute for Good Citizens by Samuel Bowles
Picture6 The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life by Uri Gneezy and John List

Now, a bunch of books on behavioural economics. I am sure that many of you have read some of these books, but I would like to mention them anyway. I think both Nudge and Misbehaving are very readable introductions to behavioural economics, so they are definitely recommended. If you did not read it already, read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow this summer. It is a very good book. But if you’d like to read something lighter to begin with, consider Dan Ariely’s Predictably Rational. It is a fun book. In fact, although they are not in my list, consider reading Ariely’s other books too. While reading these books you will remember several topics from our philosophy of economics course, or at least many things should sound familiar :)

Picture7 Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard H. Thaler
Picture8 Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler  and Cass R. Sunstein
Picture9 Thinking, Fast and Slow  by Daniel Kahneman
Picture10 Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

If you are up for some serious reading on philosophy of economics, the following books should satisfy your desire. The first book by Robert Sugden (The Community of Advantage) wonderfully combines almost everything we discussed during the semester: welfare economics, behavioral economics, normative analysis, invisible hand, incentives, theories of justice, moral limits of markets etc. It is a new book, and if you would like to catch up with recent debates among economists, this is the book to read. If you would like to make some heavy lifting in philosophy of economics then you should also read the book by Hausman et al. It is heavier than other books. So, it is definitely not for the sunbed.

Picture11 The Community of Advantage: A Behavioural Economist’s Defence of the Market  by Robert Sugden
Picture12 Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy (3rd Edition), by Daniel Hausman, Michael McPherson, and Debra Satz

If our discussion on the moral limits of markets was interesting, I suggest the following two books. They are easy to read, but also critical. Test your philosophical argumentation skills as economists against these books!

Picture13 What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel
Picture14 Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale: The Moral Limits of Markets  by Debra Satz

If you’d like to brush up your economics while critically thinking about economics, I suggest the following books. Economics in Two Lessons is fairly new. I did not finish reading it yet, but it looks like an excellent book. The other two books are also fun to read.

Note that the last book in the list is special. Thomas Schelling’s Micromotives and Macrobehavior is one of my all-time favorites. If you read it, you will be amazed by the clarity of Schelling’s thinking. Although it does not explain economic concepts like the other books, it is about how you can understand the world with very simple models. It is a must read for all economics students.

Picture15 Economics in Two Lessons: Why Markets Work So Well, and Why They Can Fail So Badly by John Quiggin
Picture16 Economics: The User’s Guide: A Pelican Introduction by Ha-Joon Chang
Picture17 Economics Without Illusions: Debunking the Myths of Modern Capitalism by Joseph Heath
Picture18 Micromotives and Macrobehavior by Thomas C. Schelling

As an economist, you need to know more about inequality, international trade, economic growth, and many other topics. Here are four books that I think will help you follow the debates concerning important topics. I would like to mention One Economics, Many Recipes separately because it is the most relevant from the perspective of philosophy of economics. It shows how to use models of economic growth in practice, paying close attention to economic methodology.

Picture19 Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization  by Branko Milanovic
Picture20 Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy by Dani Rodrik
Picture21 One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions, and Economic Growth  by Dani Rodrik
Picture22 Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson

Finally, a book about writing. Read it to improve your writing.

Picture23 Economical Writing: Thirty-Five Rules for Clear and Persuasive Prose (3rd edition) by Deirdre N. McCloskey

I think this list should get you through summer, but if you want more look at this reading list. If you would like to do some more serious reading, there is a reading list at the end of our syllabus.

Have a nice summer.

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