It is not a secret that a challenging “Introduction to Economics” course by Amos Witztum might be a tough experience for aspiring economics students. This post addresses some of the strategies how to tackle the subject and provides concrete and practical advice on how to learn and, most importantly, understand the core material.
1) Core books
Arguably one of the best ways to learn about something is to read great books. But to be able to understand economics, you need to read the right books.
Though not the easiest read, Witztum’s “Economics. An analytical introduction” offers a very rich perspective on the study of economics’. Professor Witztum’s approach is freshly different from what you would find in your freshman’s economics 101 books. His approach centres around considering the subject - economics - to be a language rather then just a hard science. If you want to explore his perspective in greater detail, have a look on one of the videos with him from a past “study weekend” in London at LSE.
Under the narrative of “economics being the language” your job is to learn single letters (what is “consumption”, “debt”, “interest rate”, etc) and some basic grammar constructs (law of supply and demand, Say’s law, Keynesian multiplier, deflation mechanism, etc). Having mastered that, one will be empowered to tackle real-live problems (why inflation is so high, what is the reason of depression, etc) by:
- understanding the framework,
- applying the model,
- deriving the solution(s).
Being in a domain of a social science, often, solutions to the problems tend to be plural, with no single “right one”, but rather offering a spectrum of different outcomes. A possible way to evaluate this is a welfare analysis: i.e. who will get what and how “fair” the resulting outcome is; is this outcome actually “efficient”, i.e. could we have achieved a “better” one? For instance, who will benefit from tax reduction and who will need to cover the hole in the budget which will emerge as a result? What is actually “efficiency”? To me, this presents an absolutely powerful strategy on how to approach economic problems, which one finds himself continuously applying over and over again. So, kudos, Mr. Witztum!
One distinctive feature of the book is the conceptual framework of using
- mathematical, and
approaches at the same time. The biggest mistake an economist can make is to get swallowed up by the highly complex mathematics, forgetting the core issue in question. The integrated approach is essential here in helping one to get along with a number of unfamiliar things and events.
As a bonus, I highly recommend to download additional exercises to the books (with detailed explanations) which can be found on the site of the publisher.
The second book which I can highly recommend is “Microeconomics” by R. Pindyck and D. Rubinfeld.
Taking a more classical approach to the subject, the book is a gentle introduction to economics covering in great detail such topics as market structures, producers, consumers, game theory and efficiency. The book is full of detailed graphs and offers a great range of examples helping to understand the concepts.
The third book I would highly recommend is “Price theory” by David Friedman. The author offers the book for free on his website, but I suggest you get one of (cheap) physical copies offering good quality graphics (this is the biggest value of the book). The amazing thing about this book is that it has a very similar approach to Witztum’s in that it views economics as an integrated subject. Each topic is covered from analytical, mathematical and graphical points of view. Moreover, every topic is supported by a number of real-life examples. The aim of the author is “to teach economic intuition” and “concentrate on learning ways of thinking” - here again, a very powerful narrative suggesting the that “real economics” is not about formulae and highly sophisticated math, rather it is an integral discipline, which is able to help us understand a wide range of real-life problems. This book should be on your summer reading list if you are truly interested in the subject.
2) Video materials
When studying independently it is important to be able to extend the learning experience by visual content and get a perspective on how different people would tackle the same problem.
A Youtube channel targeting UoL economics students is quickienomics. This will cover a broad range of topics in a very detailed fashion.
Basic microeconomics topics can be found on the channel of J. Anthony Cookson.
Arguably the best concise and clear videos on market structures are presented by Bryn Jones.
The Youtube star teacher of economics, Paj Holden, offers an engaging perspective on his channel covering all relevant topics in economics.
One of the best explanations of IS-LM model can be probably found here.
A great coverage of macroeconomics and advanced macro problems should not be missing from your watching list as well.
3) Learning materials
You want to be creative and look around for helpful additional available content if some topics are still unclear. Some of the best institutions and professors offer their material online.
Some sources I want to mention include Noah Williamson of University of Wiscouncin and Christopher Foote of Harvard . Very often, you will be able to find great course materials online, covering all relevant topics, so just google for selected topics, attaching “.pdf” key word and name of the institution e.g. “LSE”.
Consider supporting your studies with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Often, these courses offer video content in professional quality, a range of additional reading material and some exercises to do. The best overview can be found on the aggregators like https://www.class-central.com/. Just search for “economics” or “microeconomics”.
Some of really great courses which can support your studies of economics might be:
- Understanding economic policymaking by IE Business school
- The power of macroeconomics by University of California, Irvine
- Microeconomics principles by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Consider these courses as additional materials which you might use if you are stuck and need a different perspective on the subject.
5) Pen and paper
Despite the vastness of available materials, different points of view on the subject, please do not get distracted. Use all these materials as inspiration - an additional perspective on a difficult topic if you feel lost. Nevertheless, essentially focus on your core book, having a piece of paper and pen in hand - this is the only true method to master the concepts and really understand the “dismal science”.
And last but not least - have fun - economics is an amazing subject if you approach it creatively.
Yuriy is studying independently for the BSc Economics and Management in Germany.
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