Friday, December 30, 2005

The Choice by Russel Roberts

Just finished another book. This one was assigned reading for a course I am taking next term, Marcoeconomics. The Choice: A Fable of Free Trade nd Protectionism, by Russel Roberts, was a quick read, probably more so for mebecause of my familiarity with the concepts and terms it expounded. In the story English Economist David Ricardo returns to 1960's America a la the angel Clarence in It's A Wonderful Life. He comes down to prevent a minor political speech that may turn America into a protectionist nation. The surrounding economics, especially the Theory of Competitve Advantage, which Roberts renames the Roundabout Way to Wealth, are explored using the socratic method as Ricardo and the invented protagonist, Ed Johnson, a television manufacturer, discuss consequences of vairous government trade actions.
Ricardo convinces Johnson that free trade benefits all in the long run, and puts some opaque economic theories into slightly less opaque vernacular. There are no graphs and very little math in this book, to the relief of anyone who has ever taken an introductory economics course, and more so to those who have not taken one.
The chapter titles provide a simple reference to important concepts: The Challenge of Foreign Competition, The Case For Protection, Fair Trade Versus Free Trade, etc. More than anything else this book puts economics into a narrative which facilitates progression into more subtle concepts from a central problem, should governments impose quotas or tarrifs on international producers to protect domestic industries and jobs? This book can serve as an excellent teaching tool for students who are new to economics, or who may only take one or two economics courses over the course of their education. It definitely will turn many away from the dangers of protectionist policy in particular. Some of the passages become tedious and lengthy, some of the examples are distracting, and many the casual reader will become bored once the gimmic of Robert's narrative wears off. The book should be read quickly, in three to six sittings, to get the most out of it.
As a student of economics I would have preferred a more orderly and specifically labeled list of Q and A, or at least more sub-chapter headings to use as reference, but I think the book achieves its goal, and at just 116 pages, quite succinctly.
JN

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