Saturday, February 26, 2011

How An Economy Grows, and Why it Crashes

My friend Kalyan liked the book "How an Economy Grows, and Why It Crashes" so much that he bought 4 copies, and gifted one to us. That's how I came to know about and read the book.

If someone had told me that any author could explain the differences between "Keynesian ideas" and the "Austrian school" to any lay person, I'd have been highly doubtful. But the Schiff brothers do it, in the first 3 chapters of this highly readable book.

Peter D Schiff is an investor with a great understanding of economics. Let's assume that 1 in 50 people work as teachers. But only 1 among these 50 teachers is a master teacher. Only they have grasped the subject to such an extent that they can explain it to others with lucidity and simplicity. Peter Schiff is one such teacher.

This book has much going for it. It is a book presented as one ongoing allegory. If you have read "The Richest Man in Babylon" or "The Wealthy Barber" you know the kind. This book follows that storytelling tradition.

The story starts with 3 guys (Able, Baker and Charlie) stranded in an island where they have to catch fish by hand daily to survive. Each and every concept of trade and economics is built as these three become sophisticated in their economic dealings.

The authors build seamlessly from microeconomics concepts to grander topics in macroeconomics. Using examples of two larges countries (US and China, very thinly disguised) the authors play out several dire scenarios. In its criticisms, the book is hard-hitting and opinionated, and doesn't hold back.

The authors come down very strongly against holding on to US dollars. In a way, this book serves a personal wake-up call to me, because I don't own any tangible assets at all, and all savings are in paper US dollars, which Schiff feels has to fall prey to eventual inflation.

In each chapter, boxed "Reality Checks" are sprinkled on the side margins for extra clarity. "Takeaways" are given at the end of each chapter to reinforce the economics concepts introduced.

The book is a very easy read, and can be finished in one to two sittings. Everyone who is 15 or older should read this book. I can't think of any exceptions