Basic Economics

by Thomas Sowell

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: March 04, 2024
Basic Economics
Basic Economics

What are the big ideas? 1. The Importance of Economic Thinking in Everyday Life: The book emphasizes that economic principles are not just relevant for economists a

Want to read ebooks, websites, and other text 3X faster?

From a SwiftRead user:
Feels like I just discovered the equivalent of fire but for reading text. WOW, WOW, WOW. A must have for me, forever.

What are the big ideas?

  1. The Importance of Economic Thinking in Everyday Life: The book emphasizes that economic principles are not just relevant for economists and policymakers, but are essential for understanding the world around us. It argues that everyone can benefit from a basic understanding of how markets allocate resources, how incentives shape human behavior, and how trade fosters international prosperity.
  2. Debunking Common Misconceptions: The book systematically debunks popular misconceptions about various economic topics. For example, it clarifies the difference between profit-seeking businesses and non-profit organizations, explains why "trickle down" theories lack any recognized school of economics foundation, and emphasizes the importance of considering incremental trade-offs when discussing needs or values.
  3. The Power of Skepticism: The book encourages readers to adopt a skeptical stance towards economic fallacies that have shaped policy decisions throughout history. It argues that this skepticicism is not due to stupidty or ignorance, but rather due to the lack of understanding in an economic framework.
  4. Empirical Insights and Logical Implications: The book highlights the importance of questioning empirical questions and examining their logical implications for better understanding of various economic phenomena. This approach enables readers to critically evaluate situations impacting others' well-being.
  5. Embracing the Enduring Human Condition: The book encourages readers to appreciate that economics is a study of an essential part of human existence - how societies allocate scarce resources to satisfy unlimited wants. It underscores the value of understanding these principles for improving our understanding of the world around us.




  • Economics is the study of how societies allocate scarce resources and the consequences of these decisions
  • Understanding economics is important for understanding economic issues in media and politics, as it applies around the world and throughout history
  • The fundamental concern of economics is with the material standard of living of society as a whole
  • Decisions about resource allocation have longer-term repercussions and can lead to unintended consequences if not understood
  • Misconceptions of economics include that it is about making money or predicting the stock market
  • Economics is the study of how societies use scarce resources, focusing on decisions made about the use of land, labor, capital, etc.
  • The value of a resource depends on its alternative uses and scarcity
  • Different economic systems make different trade-offs in resource allocation, with some being more efficient than others
  • Scarcity means that there are no easy "win-win" solutions and decisions often involve painful trade-offs
  • Understanding economics can help individuals and societies make informed decisions about resource allocation and improve their standard of living.


“To understand most of the discussions about economics that take place in the media and in politics, all you need is to know the most basic economic principles. However, most of the people are unaware of them, including politicians, journalists and many academics from other fields.”

“Economics is more than just a way to see patterns or to unravel puzzling anomalies. Its fundamental concern is with the material standard of living of society as a whole and how that is affected by particular decisions made by individuals and institutions. One of the ways of doing this is to look at economic policies and economic systems in terms of the incentives they create, rather than simply the goals they pursue. This means that consequences matter more than intentions—and not just the immediate consequences, but also the longer run repercussions of decisions, policies, and institutions.”

“One of the ways of understanding the consequences of economic decisions is to look at them in terms of the incentives they create, rather than simply the goals they pursue.”

“In 21st century China, seven times more energy is used than is used in Japan to produce products of the same value. In this case, the gigantic differences in efficiency have also meant gigantic differences in the standard of living of millions of human beings.”

“Although the word 'economy' may bring the term money to the minds of many, the truth is that for the whole of society money is nothing more than an artificial instrument that allows real things to be done, otherwise , the government could make us all rich simply by printing more bills. It is not money but the volume of goods and services that determines whether a country is poor or prosperous.”

“When India and China - historically two of the poorest nations in the world - began to make fundamental changes in their economic policies in the late 20th century, their economies began to grow dramatically. It is estimated that about 20 million people in India emerged from homelessness in the course of a decade. In China, the number of people living on a dollar or less a day fell from 374 million in 1990, a third of the country's total population, to 128 million, in 2004, which is equivalent to just 10 percent of a population in China. increase. In other words, nearly 250 million Chinese began to live better as a result of a change in economic policy.”



  • Prices act as signals in a market economy, coordinating the actions of buyers and sellers and allocating resources accordingly.
  • The law of demand states that as the price of a good or service increases, the quantity demanded decreases, all other things being equal. Conversely, as the price decreases, the quantity demanded increases.
  • The law of supply states that as the price of a good or service increases, the quantity supplied increases, all other things being equal. Conversely, as the price decreases, the quantity supplied decreases.
  • The interaction of demand and supply determines the equilibrium price and quantity in a market. At the equilibrium price, the quantity demanded equals the quantity supplied.
  • Prices ration resources and act as incentives for producers to increase or decrease production in response to changing market conditions.
  • There is no objective or "real" value of goods or services; value is subjective and depends on individual preferences.
  • Price fluctuations can lead to temporary hardships for some individuals, but they also provide incentives for producers to respond to changing market conditions and ultimately benefit society as a whole.


“How an incredibly complex, high-tech economy manages to function is a question that puzzles many. The last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, is said to have asked British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher the following: "How do you manage to get people to have food?" He replied that she did not have to do anything, because the prices took care of that. The British people were better fed than the Soviet Union, despite the fact that the British had not produced enough food to survive for more than a century. The prices brought them food from other countries.”

“China's food comes from abroad: from South America, the United States and Australia. This means prosperity for agricultural traders and processors, like Archer Daniels Midland, which is making its way into China in every way imaginable, into a $ 100 billion domestic processed food market that is growing more than 10 percent annually. This translates into a windfall for farmers in the Midwest, who are now enjoying a two-thirds rise in the price of soybeans compared to a year ago. It also means a better diet for the Chinese, who have increased their caloric intake by a third over the past 25 years.”

“The fact that it is not a single individual or group of individuals who control or coordinate the innumerable economic activities in a market economy, does not mean that they occur randomly or in a chaotic way. Each consumer, producer, retailer, rental land owner, or worker conducts individual transactions with other individuals on pre-agreed terms. Prices convey these terms not only to the individuals directly involved in the transaction, but throughout the entire economic system, and indeed throughout the world. When someone somewhere else has a better product or a lower price for the same product or service, this is passed on and influences everyone's decisions, without the need for a public official or planning commission to issue orders to consumers. or producers. In fact, this happens faster than any bureaucrat takes to collect the information necessary to make their decisions.”

“A turning point in Yeltsin's intellectual growth occurred during his first visit to the United States in September 1989; more specifically his first visit to a supermarket in Houston, Texas. Seeing aisles and aisles of shelves filled with all kinds of food and household items, each in dozens of varieties, was both dazzled and depressed. For Yeltsin, as well as many other Russians visiting the United States for the first time, a supermarket was far more impressive than tourist attractions like the Statue of Liberty or the Lincoln Memorial. It was impressive precisely because of its normality. A cornucopia of consumer goods beyond the imagination of most Soviets was available to ordinary citizens without the need to queue for hours. And everything was displayed very attractively. For someone who grew up in the frugal conditions of communism, even a member of the relatively privileged elite, visiting a supermarket in the West was a complete assault on the senses.”

“Economists who looked at the real consequences of a centrally planned economy came to a very different conclusion: that" there are too many economic relationships, and it is impossible to take them all into account and carefully coordinate them.”



  • Price controls can result in shortages or surpluses, depending on whether prices are artificially low or high.
  • Rent control laws can create housing shortages and reduce the quality of housing.
  • Agricultural price supports can lead to internal transfers of wealth within a country but also result in misallocation of scarce resources and higher food prices for consumers.
  • The politics of price controls often involve organized constituencies that push for continued subsidies, regardless of economic consequences.
  • Historical examples of price control policies include Antwerp's resistance to Spanish blockades, Bengal famines under British colonial rule, and modern agricultural subsidies in the US and Europe.


“Just as price fluctuations allocate scarce resources which have alternative uses, price controls which limit those fluctuations reduce the incentives for individuals to limit their own use of scarce resources desired by others.”

“In short, rent control reduces the rate of housing turnover.”

“In summary, a policy intended to make housing more affordable for the poor has resulted in resources being redirected to the construction of houses that are only affordable for the rich or wealthy, since generally , luxury homes are not subject to rent control, and neither are office buildings and other commercial properties. This illustrates, among other things, the crucial importance of making a distinction between intentions and consequences”

“Many have blamed the gasoline shortages and long lines at filling stations in 1973 on the Arab Oil embargo of that year. However, the shortages and long lines began months before the Arab oil embargo, right after price controls were imposed.”

“One of the reasons for the political success of price control is that part of its costs are hidden. Even the dire consequences of the shortage are unable to show the whole picture.”

“One of the main problems of price control is to define the appropriate price of what is being controlled”

“The worst examples of quality deterioration have been in countries where there is price control over medical services. At artificially low prices, many people with minor ailments like colds or rashes end up going to a doctor's office. Under normal circumstances, these ailments would be ignored or treated with drugs that do not need a prescription, but only the advice of a pharmacist. But all this changes when price control reduces the cost of office visits, and especially when these visits are paid for by the government and therefore free for the patient.”

“Sugar producers in the European Union are subsidized even more than their peers in the United States, and the price of sugar in these countries is among the highest in the world. In 2009, The New York Times reported that sugar subsidies in the European Union were "so lavish that even Finland, a cold-climate country, began to produce more sugar," despite the fact that sugar extracted from cane grown in the tropics can be produced at a much lower cost than sugar extracted from beets grown in Europe.”

Chapter 4 - AN OVERVIEW


  • Prices reflect the relative scarcity of resources and guide decision-making in a market economy.
  • Substitution allows for incremental adjustments when one resource becomes more expensive, leading to efficiency and innovation.
  • Political decisions can distort markets through subsidies or taxes, making some goods artificially cheap or expensive and leading to inefficiencies.
  • The distinction between costs and prices is important: costs are the real opportunity cost of using resources for a particular purpose, while prices are a reflection of market demand and supply.
  • Knowledge plays a crucial role in economic decision-making, and markets allow individuals to make decisions based on their own knowledge without requiring perfect understanding of all economic implications.
  • Central planning is difficult due to the complexity and constantly changing nature of the economy, making it challenging for planners to accurately understand and weigh all trade-offs involved.


“Economics is a study of cause-and-effect relationships in an economy. It's purpose is to discern the consequences of various ways of allocating resources which have alternative uses. It has nothing to say about philosophy or values, anymore than it has to say about music or literature.”

“The painful fact that the poor end up paying more than the rich for many goods and services has a very simple and systemic explanation. It generally costs more to provide goods and services in low-income neighborhoods. For example, insurance and security costs are often higher in poor neighborhoods due to high crime and vandalism rates. This is a factor frequently forgotten by those who look to personal intentions for an explanation for this phenomenon. For example, a shopping center within a populous neighborhood of a midtown city spent 15 percent more on security guards and night lighting than a shopping complex within a residential area of ​​the same city. All these costs are passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices.”

“Treating the causes of higher prices and higher interest rates in low-income neighborhoods as being personal greed or exploitation, and trying to remedy it by imposing price controls and interest rate ceilings only ensures that even less will be supplied to people living in low-income neighborhoods thereafter.”

“Treating the cause of high prices and interest rates in low-income neighborhoods as the product of personal greed or exploitation, and attempting to remedy the problem through the imposition of price controls and interest rate caps. , it only ensures that people living in low-income neighborhoods have even less chance of accessing these services in the future. Just as rent control reduces the supply of housing, price and interest rate control can reduce the number of stores, pawn shops, local finance companies, and check-paying agencies willing to operate in costly neighborhoods. higher, when those costs cannot be recovered through legally permitted prices and interest rates. The only alternative for many residents of low-income neighborhoods may end up being to exit the legal market of financial institutions and ask for money from usurious lenders, who set even higher interest rates and have their own collection methods.”

“The difference is that one system involves each individual making choices for himself or herself, while the other system involves a small number of people making choices for millions of others.”

“One of the incidental benefits of price sharing and competition is that people don't tend to see themselves as rivals, nor do they develop the kind of hostility that rivalry can bring. For example, much of the labor force and building materials needed to build a Protestant church can be used to build a Catholic church. But if a Protestant congregation is collecting money to build their church, the concern will be how much money they can raise and how much they will need to build the kind of church they want. Construction prices may force them to forego some of their more elaborate plans in order to stay within the limits of what they can afford. But they are unlikely to blame Catholics, even though the competition with them for the same building materials drives prices higher. If, on the contrary, the government built churches and distributed them among the different religious groups, Protestants and Catholics, they would be rivals and neither of them would have any financial incentive to cut their construction plans for the benefit of the other. Instead, each would have an incentive to justify, in the strongest possible way and in favor of their needs, the mobilization of their followers in the political arena, to insist on receiving what they want and to oppose any intention to reduce their plans. . The scarcity of materials and labor would still limit what can be built, but that limit would be imposed politically and seen by both groups as a result of their rivalry.”

“People who want special taxes or subsidies for particular things seem not to understand that what they are really asking for is for the prices to misstate the relative scarcities of things and the relative values that the users of these things put on them. One”

“It is unlikely that those who provide housing, food, medicine or a host of other goods and services, can continue to provide us with the same quantity and quality of these when the costs involved in providing that quantity and quality of goods and services cannot be recovered. . This may not be immediately obvious, a reason why price controls are popular, but the consequences are long-lasting and usually get even worse over time. Homes do not disappear immediately when there is rent control, but they deteriorate over time without being replaced by newer and more suitable ones. Currently available medicines do not disappear when price controls are implemented, but new medicines for the treatment of cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's and others will probably not continue to be developed at the same speed, when the money to pay for their development is no longer there. Present. But everything takes time to be noticed and the memory of most people may be very short-term and they cannot connect the bad consequences they suffer with the popular policies they supported a few years ago.”



  • In a market economy, prices coordinate the demands and supplies of goods and services across various industries and locations, allowing for efficient resource allocation without the need for a single entity to possess all the necessary information.
  • Central planning in a socialist or command economy requires planners to have comprehensive knowledge of the economy's demands and supplies, but their limited knowledge often leads to misallocation of resources and inefficiencies.
  • The oil industry provides an example of how market prices coordinate the production and distribution of gasoline based on localized demand, while government control of prices can lead to shortages and inefficiencies.
  • Businesses that cater to specific groups or locations often succeed by acquiring detailed knowledge about their clientele or location, enabling them to better meet the needs of their customers.
  • The success stories of companies like A&P and McDonald's illustrate how a deep understanding of their target market contributed to their growth and dominance in their respective industries.


“Failure is part of the natural cycle of business. Companies are born, companies die, capitalism moves forward. Fortunemagazine{115}”

“One of the greatest defects of the economies run by political authorities, whether under medieval mercantilism or modern communism, is that the vision and insight that emerges among the population does not carry enough weight to force the authorities to change the the way they do things.”

“Given the scarcity of mental resources, an economy in which knowledge and vision have such a decisive advantage in market competition is an economy that has great advantages in creating a high standard of living for the general population. A society in which only members of a hereditary aristocracy, a military junta or a single political party in power can make great decisions is a society that wastes much of the knowledge, vision and talent of the majority of its members. own people.”

“A society in which such decisions can only be made by males has thrown away half of its knowledge, talents, and insights.”

“Contrast societies with such restricted sources of decision-making ability with a society in which a farm boy who walked eight miles to Detroit to look for a job could end up creating the Ford Motor Company and changing the face of America with mass-produced automobiles—or a society in which a couple of young bicycle mechanics could invent the airplane and change the whole world. Neither a lack of pedigree, nor a lack of academic degrees, nor even a lack of money could stop ideas that worked, for investment money is always looking for a winner to back and cash in on.”



  • Prices act as signals that facilitate efficient production and trade in a market economy.
  • Profits provide incentives for entrepreneurs to invest in new technologies, create jobs, and allocate resources efficiently.
  • Losses serve as feedback mechanisms that help correct inefficiencies and misallocations in the economy.
  • Middlemen play an essential role in facilitating trade by connecting buyers and sellers and providing services such as information, transport, and risk-sharing.
  • In socialist economies, the absence of prices, profits, and losses results in inefficiencies, unreliable production and delivery, and high inventory costs.
  • Geographic handicaps can also increase inventory costs and hinder economic development.
  • The reliability of production and trade is a key advantage of market economies, which incentivizes businesses to meet customer demands and avoid losses.


“Put in different terms, profit is the price paid for efficiency. Clearly, the increase in efficiency must be greater than the profit, or else socialism would in practice have resulted in more affordable prices and greater prosperity, as its theorists hoped, but the latter never materialized in the real world.”



  • Monopolies can exist even when a firm has less than 100% market share, especially in industries where there are few or no close substitutes.
  • Market definition is crucial in antitrust cases, as it determines the relevant market share and potential competition.
  • Historical examples of antitrust cases, such as the Microsoft case, illustrate the importance of considering all potential competitors, not just those within a narrowly defined market.
  • The benefits of anti-trust laws, such as preventing price collusion, need to be weighed against their costs, such as discouraging innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • Historical examples from India and Tata Industries illustrate the negative effects of excessive antitrust regulation on economic growth and competition.


“The success of politicians does not depend on their learning their lessons about history or politics, but depends much more on having the ability to act on what is widely believed by the public and the media, which may include theories conspiracies or the belief that the higher prices are due to deception or greed.”

Chapter 8 - AN OVERVIEW


  • Market economies allocate resources based on consumer preferences and competition, leading to innovation and efficiency.
  • Quality is important for businesses as it impacts their reputation and customer loyalty.
  • Privatization and market forces have led to economic growth in many countries, despite potential losses for some individuals or industries.
  • Economic changes are inevitable and require adjustments from individuals and businesses, even those who are financially secure.
  • The free market is an impersonal mechanism that can create wealth, but also results in winners and losers.
  • Government intervention may not necessarily lead to equitable solutions or improve economic conditions for all.
  • Economic growth requires the reallocation of resources from declining industries or regions to emerging ones.


“Misconceptions of business are almost inevitable in a society where most people have neither studied nor run businesses. In a society where most people are employees and consumers, it is easy to think of businesses as “them” – as impersonal organizations, whose internal operations are largely unknown and whose sums of money may sometimes be so huge as to be unfathomable.”



  • Capital and labor are complements but also compete for employment.
  • The relative scarcities of capital and labor determine their respective productivity in alternative uses, which affects their opportunity costs.
  • Defining efficiency solely by output per unit of labor or per hour worked is circular reasoning, as it does not take into account the alternative uses of labor and capital.
  • The concept of "efficiency" depends on human desires and preferences.
  • In countries where labor is more abundant and cheaper, it may make sense to leave capital idle and have workers available around the clock to maximize output. Conversely, in countries with ample capital but scarce labor, it might be more economical to let capital sit idle while waiting for workers to arrive.
  • Capital-poor countries can benefit from buying used equipment from richer countries instead of producing new ones themselves due to the productivity differences between their labor and that of richer countries.
  • Repair costs in richer countries, where labor is more productive, often exceed the cost of replacing malfunctioning equipment with mass-produced goods. This is not a waste but rather a rational response to the differing productivity levels between labor forces.


“The fundamental confusion that makes income bracket data and individual income data seem mutually contradictory is the implicit assumption that people in particular income brackets at a given time are an enduring “class” at that level. If that were true, then trends over time in comparisons between income brackets would be the same as trends over time between individuals. Because that is not the case, the two sets of statistics lead not only to different conclusions but even opposite conclusions.”

“The fact that work is cheaper in Dubai than in Japan is not just a fluke. Work is more productive in richer countries. That is one of the reasons these countries are generally more prosperous. Selling used equipment from rich countries to poor countries can be an efficient way to handle the situation for both types of countries.”



  • Labor regulations, including minimum wage laws and work hour restrictions, can have negative economic consequences such as higher unemployment and lower productivity.
  • Collective bargaining through labor unions can result in higher wages, but it also comes with additional costs like work rules that make it more expensive for employers to hire workers.
  • Working conditions, including safety laws and child labor regulations, are important considerations for both employers and employees. While some regulations may be necessary to protect public safety or the vulnerable, others can create unintended consequences.
  • Hours of work regulations can impact employment levels and productivity. Shorter work weeks can lead to higher wages per hour but may also result in fewer jobs being available.
  • In developing countries, multinational companies often face criticism for low wages and poor working conditions. However, these jobs are often highly sought after as they offer better alternatives than local options.
  • Competition among multinationals in developing countries can lead to improved wages and working conditions over time, but this process is more likely to occur through market forces rather than government mandates.


“Unfortunately, the real minimum wage is always zero, regardless of the laws, and that is the wage that many workers receive in the wake of the creation or escalation of a government-mandated minimum wage, because they lose their jobs or fail to find jobs when they enter the labor force. Making it illegal to pay less than a given amount does not make a worker’s productivity worth that amount—and, if it is not, that worker is unlikely to be employed.”

“If low-wage employers make workers worse off than they would be otherwise, then it is hard to imagine why workers would work for them. “Because they have no alternative” may be one answer. But that answer implies that low-wage employers provide a better option than these particular workers have otherwise—and so are not making them worse off. Thus the argument against low-wage employers making workers worse off is internally self-contradictory. What would make low-wage workers worse off would be foreclosing one of their already limited options. This is especially harmful when considering that low-wage workers are often young, entry-level workers for whom work experience can be more valuable in the long run than the immediate pay itself.”

“The history of black workers in the United States illustrates the point. As already noted, from the late nineteenth-century on through the middle of the twentieth century, the labor force participation rate of American blacks was slightly higher than that of American whites. In other words, blacks were just as employable at the wages they received as whites were at their very different wages. The minimum wage law changed that. Before federal minimum wage laws were instituted in the 1930s, the black unemployment rate was slightly lower than the white unemployment rate in 1930. But then followed the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938—all of which imposed government-mandated minimum wages, either on a particular sector or more broadly. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which promoted unionization, also tended to price black workers out of jobs, in addition to union rules that kept blacks from jobs by barring them from union membership. The National Industrial Recovery Act raised wage rates in the Southern textile industry by 70 percent in just five months and its impact nationwide was estimated to have cost blacks half a million jobs. While this Act was later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was upheld by the High Court and became the major force establishing a national minimum wage. As already noted, the inflation of the 1940s largely nullified the effect of the Fair Labor Standards Act, until it was amended in 1950 to raise minimum wages to a level that would have some actual effect on current wages. By 1954, black unemployment rates were double those of whites and have continued to be at that level or higher. Those particularly hard hit by the resulting unemployment have been black teenage males. Even though 1949—the year before a series of minimum wage escalations began—was a recession year, black teenage male unemployment that year was lower than it was to be at any time during the later boom years of the 1960s. The wide gap between the unemployment rates of black and white teenagers dates from the escalation of the minimum wage and the spread of its coverage in the 1950s. The usual explanations of high unemployment among black teenagers—inexperience, less education, lack of skills, racism—cannot explain their rising unemployment, since all these things were worse during the earlier period when black teenage unemployment was much lower. Taking the more normal year of 1948 as a basis for comparison, black male teenage unemployment then was less than half of what it would be at any time during the decade of the 1960s and less than one-third of what it would be in the 1970s. Unemployment among 16 and 17-year-old black males was no higher than among white males of the same age in 1948. It was only after a series of minimum wage escalations began that black male teenage unemployment not only skyrocketed but became more than double the unemployment rates among white male teenagers. In the early twenty-first century, the unemployment rate for black teenagers exceeded 30 percent. After the American economy turned down in the wake of the housing and financial crises, unemployment among black teenagers reached 40 percent.”

Chapter 11 - AN OVERVIEW


  • The labor theory of value, which holds that labor is the source of all wealth and value, has been largely discredited by economists since the late 19th century.
  • Technological advancements have led to job losses in certain industries but also created new jobs and industries, resulting in a net gain for employment.
  • The term "labor" is often used to refer to those who directly handle tangible objects in production, while those who plan, manage, invest, or provide other inputs are not considered laborers.
  • Exploitation theories, which claim that certain groups exploit others for their labor or wealth, have been challenged by the facts that: a) Wealthy countries primarily trade with and invest in other wealthy countries, rather than poor ones. b) Low-paid workers in rich countries often have alternative occupations or can move to different areas, making it difficult for employers to exploit them. c) Those with highly specialized skills or immobile capital can be paid less than their value in the short run.
  • Economic progress and prosperity come from a combination of factors, including labor, capital, natural resources, knowledge, and institutions, rather than just one source.


“Because immobility is the key to exploitation, fixed capital, like labor, can also be exploited in the short term. And, since some capital goods can last longer than the average life span of a worker, once a hydroelectric plant has been built, both local taxes and local unions can absorb much of its profits, to the point of making very difficult that someone is ever willing to build another hydroelectric plant in that jurisdiction.”

“Since democratic elections are always held in the short term, politicians have every incentive to extract as much wealth as possible from the fixed capital under their jurisdiction, whether through taxes, the imposition of charges on property or of the expropriation. Only public awareness of the long-term consequences can limit this form of exploitation.”



  • Natural resources are finite but their availability to consumers is determined by economic considerations such as cost, price, and present value, rather than physical quantities alone.
  • Prices cause us to share scarce resources and their products with each other at a given time and present value causes us to share those resources over time with future generations.
  • Economic considerations prevent natural resource pools from being drained dry, as it often does not pay to extract all of the oil or other resources in a pool once the cost per unit exceeds the present value of the remaining units.
  • Improvements in technology can make it economically feasible to extract and process more natural resources at lower costs, leading to larger known reserves and increased production.
  • The efficiency of political control versus market prices depends on which method conveys underlying realities more accurately, with markets generally requiring less explicit knowledge by a relatively small number of planners than required for political institutions to coordinate resources effectively.
  • Natural resource reserves are often discussed in terms of physical quantities, but economic concepts such as cost, price, and present value must be considered to reach practical conclusions.
  • Unjustified alarms about natural resources running out or overly optimistic statements about the abundance of resources in poor countries can both result from failing to consider economic factors.


“One of the big differences between economics and politics is that politicians are not forced to pay attention to the consequences that will come after the next elections. An elected official, whose policies keep the electorate happy until Election Day, has a good chance of being reelected, even if those policies have disastrous consequences for years to come. There is no 'present value' for making political decision makers today take into account future consequences, when those consequences will come after the elections.”

“Price controls and the direct allocation of resources by political institutions require much more explicit knowledge on the part of a small number of planners than a market economy requires so that it can be coordinated by prices to which millions of dollars respond. people based on first-hand knowledge of their own circumstances and preferences, and the relatively low prices that each individual must handle.”



  • Insurance is a means of spreading risk among large groups of people to reduce the financial impact on individuals and societies.
  • Government programs that mimic insurance but do not involve risk pricing can result in moral hazard, where people make decisions based on subsidized costs rather than actual risks.
  • Subsidies for living in high-risk areas (e.g., flood-prone locations) may lead to more construction in those areas and increase overall societal risk.
  • Government disaster relief can create moral hazard by reducing the incentives for individuals and communities to prepare for natural disasters and reduce risks.
  • The absence of competition in government programs results in slower response times compared to private insurance companies.

Chapter 14 - AN OVERVIEW


  • Economic policies often have unintended consequences due to individual and collective foresight of those affected.
  • Businesses may relocate or invest in areas with favorable economic conditions, while avoiding regions with unfavorable conditions.
  • Government policies that create incentives for certain behaviors can lead to an oversupply of those behaviors, such as children being classified as having learning disabilities or farmers hoarding land before redistribution.
  • Inflation and currency devaluation can cause people and businesses to hoard goods and assets in anticipation of future scarcity.
  • The political time horizon is often shorter than the economic time horizon, leading to policies with unintended long-term consequences.
  • Private markets have mechanisms for exercising foresight through experts and rating agencies, while governments may lack such mechanisms or overlook their importance.


“Perhaps the most important thing about risk is its inescapability. Particular individuals, groups, or institutions may be sheltered from risk - but only at the cost of having someone else bear that risk. For a society as a whole, there is no someone else.”

“When wheat prices soar, for example, nothing is easier for a demagogue than to cry out against the injustice of a situation where speculators, sitting comfortably in their air-conditioned offices, grow rich on the sweat of farmers toiling in the fields for months under a hot sun. The years when the speculators took a financial beating at harvest time, while the farmers lived comfortably on the guaranteed wheat prices paid by speculators, are of course forgotten.”



  • National output statistics can be useful for comparing economic conditions between countries or over time, but they have limitations and potential biases.
  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measures the total value of goods and services produced within a country's borders in a given year. It is often used to compare national economies, but it has limitations as it does not account for factors such as population size, economic activity outside the formal market economy, or the quality of output.
  • Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDPpc) provides a more accurate comparison of living standards between countries by adjusting for population differences. However, it still has limitations as it does not account for income distribution and the quality of goods and services produced.
  • Comparisons of economic trends over time can be misleading due to base year effects and changes in what is counted as output. Additionally, economic activity that was once done within households (e.g., food production, childcare) may now be done for pay in the market economy, leading to inflation in official statistics.
  • Extreme poverty can lead to high infant mortality rates and a large percentage of the population being poor, which can understate average income growth or even make it appear as if it has declined when it has actually increased for most individuals.



  • Banks play a crucial role in the economy by facilitating transactions and acting as intermediaries between savers and borrowers.
  • The efficiency of banking systems can be assessed based on their ability to allocate resources efficiently, reduce risks, and maintain stability during financial crises.
  • The historical context and unique challenges faced by different countries have led to varying degrees of success in creating effective banking systems.
  • A successful banking system requires a stable political environment, clear property rights, and efficient market mechanisms that incentivize prudent risk-taking.
  • Government intervention can either increase or decrease risks for banks, depending on the specific policies implemented. Instances of government intervention that restrict branch banking, direct lending to specific sectors, or mandate deposit insurance have led to increased risks in some cases.
  • Effective regulation of financial institutions is crucial to ensuring stability and preventing systemic risks from spreading, but excessive regulations can create unintended consequences and increase risks if not implemented carefully.



  • Government regulations can create external costs that may outweigh any benefits they provide.
  • Categorical phrases like "clean water" or "clean air" can create political pressures for unnecessary and costly regulations.
  • The distinction between the goals of a policy and its actual consequences should be kept in mind when evaluating government functions.
  • Powers and institutions created for specific purposes may continue to exist long after those circumstances have passed.
  • Assumptions about which activities are best performed by government should not be based on historical precedent alone.


“In short, honesty is more than a moral principle. It is also a major economic factor. While government can do little to create honesty directly, in various ways it can indirectly either support or undermine the traditions on which honest conduct is based. This it can do by what it teaches in its schools, by the examples set by public officials, or by the laws that it passes. These laws can create incentives toward either moral or immoral conduct. Where laws create a situation in which the only way to avoid ruinous losses is by violating the law, the government is in effect reducing public respect for laws in general, as well as rewarding specific dishonest behavior.”

“When laws and policies make honesty increasingly costly, then government is, in effect, promoting dishonesty. Such dishonesty can then extend beyond the particular laws and policies in question to a more general habit of disobeying laws, to the detriment of the whole economy and society.”

“Among the greatest external costs imposed in a society can be those imposed politically by legislators and officials who pay no costs whatever, while imposing billions of dollars in costs on others, in order to respond to political pressures from advocates of particular interests or ideologies.”

“In the United States, government regulations are estimated to cost about $7,800 per employee in large businesses and about $10,600 per employee in small businesses.{662} Among other things, this suggests that the existence of numerous government regulations tends to give competitive advantages to big business, since there are apparently economies of scale in complying with these regulations.”



  • Government spending is often driven by political incentives rather than economic efficiency or public need.
  • Elected officials prioritize getting re-elected, which can lead to expenditures on visible projects that generate positive media attention and ribbon-cutting ceremonies, even if these projects offer little or no economic benefit.
  • Open-ended government obligations, such as pensions and guarantees for loans, are difficult to estimate and can result in large and unexpected costs.
  • Government pension plans do not create wealth like private annuities; instead, they spend current premiums to pay current retirees, with future generations expected to cover the costs of their parents' and grandparents' pensions.
  • The political incentives that lead to generous government pensions can result in unsustainable financial obligations, especially when birthrates decline and life expectancies increase.
  • Government pension plans in many countries are already facing financial crises due to their open-ended nature and the generosity of benefits.
  • Unlike private annuities, government pension plans do not invest premiums to create wealth for future generations; instead, they spend current premiums on current retirees.
  • The political incentives that lead to generous government pensions can also result in other forms of unfunded obligations and unsustainable spending, such as early retirement or disability benefits.

Chapter 19 - AN OVERVIEW


  • Markets are imperfect, but "market failure" does not automatically justify government intervention because government may also fail or even make things worse.
  • The Great Depression of the 1930s in the United States is often seen as an example of market failure leading to high unemployment, but it is questionable whether the stock market crash of 1929 caused the mass unemployment that followed. Government interventions, such as tariffs and government control over banks' investment decisions, contributed significantly to economic distress.
  • Incentives and constraints differ between markets and governments: markets require efficiency and profitability to survive, while politicians must be concerned about being re-elected, which can result in continued support for costly or failing projects.
  • The reluctance of government officials to admit mistakes and change course results in continued support for failures or costly projects, often paid by taxpayers.
  • Markets require admission of mistakes and reversal of bad decisions for financial survival, creating pressure to avoid mistakes and assess situations before proceeding.
  • Democratic governments based on free markets are relatively new historical concepts, raising questions about whether market or government failed in the 1930s or currently.
  • Competitive markets offer incentives to marshal best available expertise for assessing future projects, contrasting with political officials whose mistakes may not surface until after election cycle.


“As an entrepreneur in India put it: 'Indians have learned from painful experience that the state does not work on behalf of the people. More often than not, it works on behalf of itself.”

“No one likes to admit being mistaken but, under the incentives and constraints of profit and loss, there is often no choice but to reverse course before financial losses threaten bankruptcy. In politics, however, the costs of the government’s mistakes are often paid by the taxpayers, while the costs of admitting mistakes are paid by elected officials.”



  • International trade restrictions can be justified for national defense reasons, but their validity depends on specific circumstances.
  • The term "essential to national defense" has been stretched to include products with only remote or fictitious relationship to military necessity.
  • "Dumping" allegations are often used as a pretext for protectionism and can be difficult to prove or disprove due to uncertainties in determining production costs.
  • Tariffs, quotas, health and safety rules, and other restrictions serve to raise the prices of imports, benefiting domestic producers at the expense of consumers.
  • Comparative advantages change over time, causing international production centers to shift from one country to another.
  • Outsourcing jobs to foreign countries has been a contentious issue, but net job losses are often smaller than suggested and can be offset by increased employment opportunities in other sectors.


“In the complexities of real life, seldom is any argument right 100 percent of the time or wrong 100 percent of the time.”



  • Property rights systems that allow for secure and accessible ownership of property are crucial for economic growth, particularly in poorer countries.
  • The largest transfers of wealth from richer to poorer nations come from private sources such as philanthropy, business investments, and remittances rather than official foreign aid.
  • A stable international monetary system facilitates economic activity and reduces risks for investors.
  • Terms like "strong" and "weak" currencies can be misleading without context, and it is important to look at specific economic realities rather than relying on emotional connotations of words.

Chapter 22 - AN OVERVIEW


  • International trade allows countries to focus on producing goods they have a comparative advantage in, leading to increased efficiency and economic growth for all participating countries.
  • International investment enables countries to access capital, technology, and expertise from other nations, promoting economic development and increasing the world's overall prosperity.
  • The benefits of international trade and investment are often resisted by industries and regions that stand to lose jobs or businesses due to increased competition. However, these losses are offset by the creation of new opportunities and industries in other sectors.
  • International financial flows can restrict the range of options available to governments, as they may choose to adopt economically counterproductive policies if they cannot attract foreign investment or face significant outflows of capital.
  • The availability of foreign aid reduces the necessity for poor countries to implement reforms that would make their economies more attractive to private investors and encourage the mobilization of internal economic assets.
  • Human capital, including entrepreneurs and skilled labor, plays a crucial role in economic development. However, the political and institutional climate can discourage the full utilization of this human capital, leading to brain drain and lost opportunities for economic growth.



  • Profit is a necessary component of an economy for efficient resource allocation, as it signals the opportunity cost of resources and provides incentives for entrepreneurs to invest in new ventures.
  • The term "non-profit" organization is often misunderstood as being inherently more altruistic or ethical than profit-seeking businesses. However, non-profits may face fewer market pressures due to their reliance on donations and grants, leading to potential inefficiencies and misallocation of resources.
  • The absence of a profit motive does not guarantee the alignment of an organization's goals with those of its stakeholders or founders. Power dynamics, self-serving motivations, and political considerations can influence non-profit organizations to deviate from their stated purposes.
  • Non-profit institutions, such as universities and hospitals, have been known to discriminate against certain groups in the past, while profit-seeking businesses have often been more inclusive and diverse in hiring practices. This discrepancy highlights the importance of market competition in promoting equality and fairness.
  • The "trickle down" theory is a mischaracterization and misrepresentation of economic thought that has no basis in reality. The idea of profits trickling down to workers or the masses is not found in any recognized school of economics, yet it is frequently used as a political slur against tax cuts and reduced government involvement in the economy.
  • Profit is essential for efficient resource allocation, signaling opportunity costs and incentivating investment in new ventures.
  • The misconception of 'non-profit' organizations being inherently more moral or ethical than profit-seeking businesses stems from their lack of market pressures leading to potential inefficiencies and misallocated resources.
  • Power dynamics, self-serving motivations, and political considerations can influence non-profit organizations to diverge significantly from their stated purposes.
  • Discrimination against certain groups has occurred more frequently in the past within 'non-profit' institutions, while profit-seeking businesses have often been more inclusive and diverse in hiring practices. The discrepancy highlights the importance of market competition in promoting equality and fairness.
  • The concept of 'trickle down' theory is a mischaracterization and misrepresentation of economic thought that has no basis in reality. It involves the idea of profits trickling down to workers or the masses, but this theory lacks any recognized school of economics backing it up. Instead, it is frequently used as a political slur against tax cuts and reduced government involvement in the economy.


“prices are not costs. Prices are what pay for costs.”



  • The concept of "fairness" is subjective and often used to justify policies that favor certain groups at the expense of others.
  • The term "non-economic values" is often used to justify policies that ignore the opportunity cost of resources, leading to inefficient outcomes.
  • Saving lives is an important consideration, but it must be balanced against other uses of scarce resources.
  • Unmet needs cannot be met without creating new unmet needs somewhere else.
  • The concept of "needs" is subjective and often used to justify policies that ignore the trade-offs involved in resource allocation.
  • Economic analysis involves understanding the incremental trade-offs involved in the use of scarce resources.



  • Economics is a social science that studies how individuals and societies allocate scarce resources to satisfy unlimited wants.
  • Economists use models, assumptions, and data to understand economic phenomena and make predictions about the consequences of different policies or actions.
  • Economic theories have evolved over time as new evidence and insights emerged, leading to debates and controversies within the profession.
  • Economics is not a perfect science and faces challenges such as complexities, uncertainty, and ideological biases, but it has made significant contributions to our understanding of economic phenomena and has proven valuable in guiding policy decisions.
  • Economic ideas can influence events through shaping beliefs and attitudes, while events may influence economics by providing new insights or challenges to existing theories.
  • Economics is ultimately a study of an enduring part of the human condition, and its value lies in contributing to our understanding of how societies allocate scarce resources to satisfy unlimited wants.


“Although Adam Smith is today often regarded as a “conservative” figure, he in fact attacked some of the dominant ideas and interests of his own times. Moreover, the idea of a spontaneously self-equilibrating system—the market economy—first developed by the Physiocrats and later made part of the tradition of classical economics by Adam Smith, represented a radically new departure, not only in analysis of social causation but also in seeing a reduced role for political, intellectual, or other elites as guides or controllers of the masses.”



  • Acquiring a skepticism about economic fallacies and promoting an analytical approach is important.
  • Many economic policies have led to counterproductive or catastrophic consequences throughout history, not due to stupidity but due to lack of understanding in an economic framework.
  • Knowledge and insights are crucial in a market economy, even if they come from people lacking financial resources.
  • Success and failure are inseparable parts of a free market economy.
  • All economies are ways of cooperating in production and distribution, but misunderstandings can lead to negative outcomes.
  • Property rights are essential for individuals to rise out of poverty and contribute to economic advancement.
  • Empirical questions and logical implications are important for understanding issues that impact the well-being of others.


“Seldom do people think things through foolishly. More often, they do not bother to think things through at all, so that even brainy individuals can reach untenable conclusions because their brainpower means little if it is not deployed and applied.”


What do you think of "Basic Economics"? Share your thoughts with the community below.