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‘Good economics’ for everyone

The latest book by two Nobel prize-winners presents and explains our current reality, analysing the problems that characterise it, but above all the solutions that can be found

The economy can represent a tool to be used to place human dignity ‘back at the heart’ of things. Indeed, working for the well-being of the wider community should be a goal that is shared by all (although this is not the case), just it should constitute part of the nature of any social organisation or manufacturing entity. Not ‘bad economics’ but ‘good economics’, the antithesis of ‘blinkered’ or ‘blind’ economics. As such, it is crucial to maintain an astute awareness of what is going on in the places we live and work, from all perspectives. This last condition is once again a necessity for us all. Reading Good Economics for Hard Times (released in Italian as Una buona economia per tempi difficili), written by the two Nobel prize-winners Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, is precisely what we need in order to develop the knowledge necessary to build a careful and critical view of reality as it stands.

The book addresses the core issues at the heart of the global economy and society, with a specific focus on inequality, international trade, the impact of technology on work and the spread of poverty across the world, in a language that is accessible yet precise, lively but never predictable or prosaic. The two economists turn their attention to eight major topics: immigration, the market, choice mechanisms, well-being, climate, work, the role of politics and the meaning of welfare.

Banerjee and Duflo’s book presents many problems, but it is not a pessimistic read. ‘We wrote this book,’ they explain at the beginning, ‘in an attempt to hold on to hope. To summarise what has gone wrong and why, but also to remind ourselves of everything that has gone right. It is a book that speaks both of the problems we face and what we can do in order to put our world back together again, provided we succeed in making an honest diagnosis.’ And honesty, along with freedom, justice, a focus on others, clear choices and respect for every individual are some of the key concepts that emerge again and again in the 400 or so pages of the book (which reads more like a story than a dry economics manual).

One of the final passages is particularly striking: ‘The only resource we have against bad ideas is to be vigilant, to resist the seduction of the obvious, and look at any miracles we are promised with scepticism, questioning the evidence, facing complex situations with patience and being honest about what we know and what we don’t.’

In short, this volume by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo is worth reading and rereading.

Una buona economia per tempi difficili

Abhijit V. Banerjee, Esther Duflo

Laterza, 2020