Macroeconomics, 4th ed. - Olivier Blanchard (part 1)

There is a lot to be said for reading economics textbooks from various points in the past, in order to understand the mindset of the time. Previously, I'd read a copy of Samuelson's Economics, from the midst of '70s stagflation. This book is from just before the Great Recession, or whatever you're calling it, so it provides an interesting reminder of the worries of the world then.

I'm reviewing the 'core' section of this book, the first 280 pages or so, since I'm being context-switched onto studing for FCA exams, and might not come back to this for a while.

First, printing and price - it's very colourful, and full of modern textbook 'style'. It's pricey, as economists seem very much aware of how much they can gouge their students for. I got my copy as part of our wedding list (!), so many thanks to the lovely donor. In terms of content, it's nicely not dumbed down, which is a relief. There's rather more quantitative modelling than the old Samuelson, for example. IS-LM is in an appendix of a late macroeconomics chapter of Samuelson, while it's the core of Chapter 5 in this book.

I guess this is a reminder of how young economics really is. Keynes's General Theory is well less than a hundred years old, and not a clear and straightforward theory when it was produced. Stagflation surprised everyone less than 40 years ago, with a modified Philips curve being the explanation in this book. It's a young and easily-surprised subject.

So, given that, the book is remarkably confident. It creates models, with their logical framework, and says 'This is how to think about things in the short, medium and long terms', without much in the way of 'but this might not really always work'. Having said that, it's not just theoretical magic - the book takes plenty of detours to quantitatively test the theories against various historical scenarios, and these econometric detours are one of the strengths of the book.

While I said that the book isn't dumbed down, it does seem a fairly standard assumption that undergrad economists can't do calculus. Most explanations, as usual, seem to come down to drawing two curvy lines on a graph, and moving one of them around. Linear approximations abound, and calculus non-existent. For this reason, I somewhat distrust 'advanced' economics models. Oh, that and the way that, as mentioned earlier, the subject keeps getting surprised. Give me simple, robust models and wary people any day.

This book does not seem designed to produce people wary of their limitations. It is very confident. However, it tries hard to do the science thing on historical data, and if you bring your own scepticism along, I think it makes a nice introduction to macroeconomics.

Posted 2013-06-27.