Possible Discussion Questions for Partha Dasgupta, *Economics: A Very Short Introduction*
- How different do you think the lives of Becky and Desta are now and are likely to be?
- How would you go about explaining why the lives of Becky and Desta are and are likely to be different?
- How would an economist go about explaining why the lives of Becky and Desta are and are likely to be different?
- What are the costs and benefits of thinking like an economist?
- What kind of person would start an analysis by asking: "What are the costs and benefits of thinking like an economist?"
- In the long sweep of human history, is Becky very lucky, lucky, unlucky, or very unlucky?
- In the long sweep of human history, is Desta very lucky, lucky, unlucky, or very unlucky?
- How much richer is the world today than it was in the long centuries from 5000 BC to 1800?
- How much richer are the world's rich today than the world's poor today?
- What would count as an explanation of this divergence across space and time--that is, what kinds of things would count as "causes" and make you happy that you understood what was going on?
- How many useful "hierarchies of causation" can you imagine here?
- About what fraction of our wealth is the result of--or, perhaps, is enabled by--our collective ability to engage in a very large distribution of labor (rather than requiring that each extended household be close to self-sufficient)?
- What are the possible ways of creating the "trust" needed for a small-scale--within the village or within the herding band, say--distribution of labor? What are the possible ways of creating the "trust" needed for a large-scale division of labor?
- What, in the world we see around us, turn out to be the most important ways of creating the "trust" needed to maintain a large-scale division of labor?
- Suppose that we have the norm (or the strategy) that a failure to share in any case leads to the end of the sharing relationship forever. How much of a large-scale social distribution of labor can be supported by tied engagements of this type?
- What are the advantages to having an economic network built out of "weak ties"?
- What are the difficulties in creating and maintaining an economic network built out of "weak ties"?
- How is having access to an ideal market the same as or different from having an economic network of ties (strong or weak) extending over the entire world?
- In what sense is what Dasgupta calls an "ideal market" ideal?
- Why did Friedrich von Hayek deserve his Nobel Prize?
- How can a central planner nevertheless add value for society, even though Friedrich von Hayek did deserve his Nobel Prize?
- Why should we worry about each of the four kinds of market failure that Dasgupta sees: distributional, free-riding, market power, and macroeconomic?
Science and Technology as Institutions
- Given that knowledge is non-rival--if I teach it to you, I don't have any less of it than I did before--what justification could there possibly be for charging people for access to knowledge and its uses?
- If people weren't allowed to charge others for access to knowledge and its uses, would there be any reason to think that society would be putting a properly-large share of our resources into creating and disseminating knowledge?
- Why can contests and the rule of priority be good ways to spur the creation and dissemination of knowledge?
- How well do contests and the rule of priority fit with a private-property market economy?
Households and Firms
- Where have all the women gone?
- Why do we think that Africa's population is likely to grow much faster than India's population over the next fifty years?
- How does Desta's household react to the fact that GEICO does not sell insurance policies in their neighborhood?
- How does Becky's family react to the fact that they can borrow from Umpqua Bank and invest in the Vanguard Funds--rather than having to deal with the local moneylender?
- Why does Becky's world have large-scale firms?
- Why does Becky's world have joint-stock limited-liability companies?
- Why does Becky's world have tradable financial assets?
- Why are we destroying our fisheries? Why are we rapidly using up our atmosphere's capacity to absorb carbon dioxide without substantial increases in temperature? Why is such a large chunk of our population potentially short of fresh water?
- Why have we been able to successfully capture and use 40% of the photosynthesis on earth without already severely disrupting our planet?
- How have we managed to become so much more numerous and rich since 1800 without rapidly-rising prices of pretty much all natural resources?
Social Welfare and Democratic Government
- What are T.H. Marshall's "three revolutions"?
- Why is each of them important?
- How does a government based on T.H. Marshall's "three revolutions" tend to promote a prosperous market economy?
- Does a prosperous market economy tend to promote T.H. Marshall's "Three Revolutions"--and if it does, does it promote them all?
- What distinction does Dasgupta draw between problems and challenges?
- Which--problems or challenges--is better suited for analysis with the tools of economics?
- What, after finishing this book, do you now think the most important tools of economics are?