Book Recommendations from the World of Economics

Martin Wolf selects the best books for the summer vacation from the world of economics. From MMT over Trade Wars up to every facet of inequality. Everyone can find something here.




1. JULY 2020

Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism – Anne Case and Angus Deaton 

Life expectancy in the United States has recently fallen for three years in a row–a reversal not seen since 1918 or in any other wealthy nation in modern times. In the past two decades, deaths of despair from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism have risen dramatically, and now claim hundreds of thousands of American lives each year–and they’re still rising. Anne Case and Angus Deaton, known for first sounding the alarm about deaths of despair, explain the overwhelming surge in these deaths and shed light on the social and economic forces that are making life harder for the working class. They demonstrate why, for those who used to prosper in America, capitalism is no longer delivering.

Basic Income and Sovereign Money: The Alternative to Economic Crisis and Austerity Policy – Geoff Crocker

While often times, MMT-economist stress the importance of full employment and its positive societal externalities, Geoff Crocker goes the other route. He advocates for a universal basic income and defines the distribution of income as the most important issue of the 21st century.

The Uncounted – Alex Cobham

What we count matters – and in a world where policies and decisions are underpinned by numbers, statistics and data, if you’re not counted, you don’t count. Alex Cobham argues that systematic gaps in economic and demographic data not only lead us to understate a wide range of damaging inequalities, but also to actively exacerbate them. He shows how, in statistics ranging from electoral registers to household surveys and census data, people from disadvantaged groups, such as indigenous populations, women, and disabled people, are consistently underrepresented. This further marginalizes them, reducing everything from their political power to their weight in public spending decisions.

Poverty is Not Natural – George Curtis

Poverty is not Natural was listed by Martin Wolf as one of his ‘best reads so far’ in the Financial Times (June 2020), adding: ‘George Curtis has a soft spot for Henry George. So do I. George famously argued that landowners are among the biggest gainers from economic progress. Yet they do not create that wealth. They benefit from the investments, ingenuity and labour of others. The answer, George suggested, was to transfer the increased value of land into the hands of the public. Curtis agrees with this proposal, as do I. It would not solve all our economic and social problems. But it would help.’

Trade is Not a Four-Letter Word: How Six Everyday Products Make the Case for Trade – Fred P. Hochberg

Hochberg unravels the mysteries of trade by pulling back the curtain on six everyday products, each with a surprising story to tell: the taco salad, the Honda Odyssey, the banana, the iPhone, the college degree, and the smash hit HBO series Game of Thrones. Behind these six examples are stories that help explain not only how trade has shaped our lives so far but also how we can use trade to build a better future for our own families, for America, and for the world. There is no going back.

Radical Uncertainty: Decision-Making Beyond the Numbers – John Kay and Mervyn King

This incisive and eye-opening book draws on biography, history, mathematics, economics and philosophy to highlight the most successful – and most short-sighted – methods of dealing with an unknowable future Ultimately, the authors argue, the prevalent method of our age falls short, giving us a false understanding of our power to make predictions, leading to many of the problems we experience today. Tightly argued, provocative and written with wit and flair, Radical Uncertainty is at once an exploration of the limits of numbers and a celebration of human instinct and wisdom.

The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and How to Build a Better Economy – Stephanie Kelton

We’ve been thinking about government spending in the wrong ways, Kelton argues, on both sides of the political aisle. Everything that both liberal/progressives and conservatives believe about deficits and the role of money and government spending in the economy is wrong, especially the fear that deficits will endanger long-term prosperity.
Through illuminating insights about government debt, deficits, inflation, taxes, the financial system, and financial constraints on the federal budget, Kelton dramatically changes our understanding of how to best deal with important issues ranging from poverty and inequality to creating jobs and building infrastructure. Rather than asking the self-defeating question of how to pay for the crucial improvements our society needs, Kelton guides us to ask: which deficits actually matter?



Do we need a whole new understanding of economic growth? What would be a real alternative? How viable are alternatives to GDP when it comes to measuring prosperity? These and other more fundamental challenges are what this section is about.