When you first start learning economics you hear the beckoning call of some classic economics books the loudest call comes from adam smith’s The wealth of nations but should you listen to these calls I think you should not prioritize reading classic economics books.
The Wealth of Nations Summary
I am going to tell you what you should be doing instead but first, let me address who would benefit from reading the classics obviously if you are interested in the history of economic thought you should read adam smith’s wealth of nations along with that you would want to read Alfred marshall’s principles of economics Karl Marx capital lots of other books.
That are in the history of economic thought it’s kind of like if you were interested in the history of scientific thought you would want to read newton’s Principia or darwin’s origin of the species but this analogy to the history of scientific thought really highlights why you should not make it a priority let’s think about darwin changed the world with his theory of evolution and natural selection but he did not understand how traits were passed from parents to children he came up with a theory but that theory was wrong he did not understand genetics similarly adam smith had many important insights on economics and you can it online the wealth of nations.
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He discussed the division of labor and how the price mechanism helps the market organize itself without a central planner i love adam smith this quote up here is from the wealth of nations but like darwin, he did not get everything right one that sticks out to me is his theory of value the value of any commodity to the person who possesses it and wishes to exchange it is equal to the quantity of labor which it enables him to purchase or command labor, therefore, is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities adam smith tries to refine this idea a little bit more but the fundamental concept that value is measured by labor the wealth of nations.
Just is not right labor is the last thing on the mind of someone who is spending a hundred thousand dollars on a chicken nugget shaped like an among us character like with evolution and genetics we understand economic ideas better than when we did in adam smith’s time you should benefit from that 250 years of progress so what should you read instead I imagine that if you are interested in diving into the wealth of nations it’s because you want to develop the economic thinking you want to get a better foundation.
Your textbook was great but you want to go deeper well the most underrated resource in learning economics is the journal of economic perspectives this journal gets experts to write about topics that are relevant today earlier this year there was an issue with three articles on the minimum wage about what we understand about today different policies that are being proposed and non-employment effects of the minimum wage in that same issue there was an article about the wealth tax which is a huge policy debate today the journal of economic perspectives has been publishing work like this since 1987 and the best part are it’s all available online for free if you are interested in learning about economics.
You should go through and explore the archives for articles that are interesting to you you will find a combination of theory and empirics that gives you the most up-to-date understanding of that topic and at the end of every issue is just a list of interesting talks and articles that you can look up in other publications without a doubt the journal of economic perspectives is the most underrated resource for learning more about economics and if you are interested in reading books about economics you should check out this playlist here which gives my recommendations and reviews.