I don’t normally write book reviews on this blog. I have written articles mentioning books I think are a good starting point for getting into behavioural science, as well as writing about books that in general I just think are good. But when I got told Erik Angner, the man who wrote THE behavioural economics course book was putting out a book called ‘How Economics Can Save The World’, well you better believe I was on that pre-order list.
I don’t think the book title, nor Erik’s actual job title allude to the fact that he is an actual and excellent behavioural economist. Realistically, Erik is an economic philosopher. And before that worries you that the book is dry as fuck, it actually means the opposite. Most philosophers I know are incredible story tellers. They can outline a problem in such a way where you’re both 100% invested, as well as fully on the same page, in terms of comprehension, as the philosopher themselves. That is an incredible skill set that I miss in a lot of scientists, behavioural or otherwise. This book is no exception to this. Erik covers a variety of topics which I wouldn’t even have associated with economics, and I am (partially) trained as an economist. We get a historical overview of what economics was, should have been, should be and now is and it is filled with stuff I had no idea of. Consider me educated. This is all to set context before we dive straight into the elimination of poverty. Because, you know, we like to start light…
From that light ‘amuse-bouche’ we dive straight into the starter: parenting. Yes, of course you’d like an economist’s viewpoint on that, why wouldn’t you?! But the way this book is set up is where it truly shines for me: it’s a merger of seemingly unrelated, but amazing work by a variety of absolute experts in the field – whether they are behavioural scientists or not. The chapter on poverty alleviation is filled with the work by Banerjee and Duflo. The chapter on changing bad behaviour through restructuring social norms is almost an ode to the amazing work by the legendary Cristina Bicchieri (massive fan over here). And so the book continues. From topics such as climate change (yes, that’s a predominantly economic problem in terms of externalities and incentives), to organ donation (which is an operation design problem), to humility, becoming rich and building communities. This book honestly has everything. And then some. It’s a full 10 course meal!
To me, Erik’s strength has always been his ability to disseminate, convincingly, the most difficult of arguments. And he does so again. He provides a comprehensive overview of the world’s most pressing problems, and the economic tools available to individuals and policymakers, and how they can be used to create a more equitable and sustainable world. It’s a good read and it shows how relevant economics still is in terms of both understanding and attacking the world’s most pressing problems. And these problems are pressing. As a psychologist, my favourite chapter was chapter 7, ‘how to be humble’. As an economist, my favourite chapter was chapter 8, ‘how to get rich’. But honestly, all chapters tackle a variety of key topics. There’s something for everyone there.
Overall, How Economics Can Save the World is an insightful and thought-provoking book that provides a comprehensive overview of the economic tools available and how they can be used to create a better world. Erik’s arguments are well-reasoned and supported by evidence, and his writing is clear and accessible. This book is an essential read for anyone interested in understanding how economics can be used to address global challenges. And if it’s the only book you manage to read in 2023, then it will have been a good year for you!
Just a quick mention here as well: I have had the privilege of interviewing of Erik before, click here to read that interview, and click here if you're keen on hearing me interview him when I still co-hosted the Questioning Behaviour Podcast :)