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MIT Technology Review

The best books in 2019 on the economy we live in

The year 2019 produced some evidence-based antidotes to the trendy political narratives of robot domination and the collapse of capitalism.

December 23, 2019
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best books on tech

I’m struck by the number of truly brilliant books on economics this year. My list of favorites is below; it includes thought-provoking analysis of inequality, climate change, and the dismal state of innovation in the US—and explanations of what has gone wrong and how to fix them.

But does anyone care? Not only are today’s politicians and the public generally oblivious to these insights, but they are taking a diametrically opposed path by doing more or less the opposite of what economic common sense dictates. The examples are all too obvious: Brexit, trade wars, panic and fury over immigration, tax policies that exacerbate inequality.

The panic has taken over the left as well as the right. Capitalism is collapsing, and time is running out for today’s kids! The robots are taking over, and a guaranteed basic income is the only way to keep millions from starving! Never mind that these are stories with little allegiance to reality. Never mind that they can be easily debunked in a thoughtful economic discussion.

They are the trendy political narratives. They are the loudest voices of the day.

We ignore the thinking and analysis of the world’s smartest economists at our own risk. In the books below there’s plenty of disagreement and room for debate—but they all share a dedication to rigorous reasoning based on the data, and the writers frame the discussion in a way that offers real options based on the evidence.

Good Economics for Hard Times  by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo

Good Economics for Hard Times

Want an intro to the smartest economic thinking about today’s toughest problems? Start here. Two of this year’s winners of the Nobel Prize in economics patiently walk you through the issues and the latest research shedding light on the problems.

The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society  by Binyamin Appelbaum

Economist' Hour

Are economists to blame for many of today’s ills? Actually, maybe yes. An engaging account of the political rise of economists over the last 50 years, this is a compelling read if you care about economics and politics.

Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream  by Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson

Jumpstarting America

Has a lack of innovation and technological advances led to the slow growth in the US economy over the last few decades? Two MIT economists present a convincing argument that increased scientific research is essential to create better jobs and return the country to a path of prosperity.

The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay  by Gabriel Zucman and Emmanuel Saez

The Triumph of Injustice

Does a wealth tax on today’s billionaires make sense? Yes, say the pair of Berkeley professors. But this isn’t another eat-the-rich rant from French economists; it’s a thoughtful argument for a tax policy that is inspiring much of the progressive movement in the US during this election season.

Unbound: How Inequality Constricts Our Economy and What We Can Do about It  by Heather Boushey

Unbound

Think rising levels of inequality are just an inevitable outcome of our market-driven economy? Then you should read Boushey’s well-argued, well-documented explanation of why you’re wrong.

Innovation + Equality: How to Create a Future That Is More Star Trek Than Terminator  by Joshua Gans and Andrew Leigh

Innovation + Equality

Read this one along with Boushey’s Unbound. Though it’s a very different book, the message is the same: reducing inequality doesn’t mean we can’t have prosperity and innovation. In fact, we need greater equality to allow innovation to flourish.

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