To understand the nature of economics, we must understand the historical forces that drive our world. As a diverse and vast field, economic history provides the necessary context to the economic decisions made in the world right now. It also provides insights into the challenges our world is currently facing.
Understanding the past events and the evolution of our theoretical discourse, makes us better suited to grasp the modern discourse of economics. Economic History lays out the evolving distribution structures of our economic life, which equips us with the necessary background. By understanding the theoretical framework, we realise what will help us explain the real world phenomenons.
An interesting aspect is to find patterns to our economic changes and their causes. To enumerate a few - the relationship between 1929 and 2007-08 economic crash, boost in economy post-world war 2, the stir of labour union in the 1950s, the deregulation policies of the 1980s and 90s.
With this in mind, this is a collection of our 4 favourite books that work as a great introduction for anyone interested in knowing more about the field of economic history.
The Making of English Working Class, 1963
The Making of English Class by E.P. Thompson is a good introduction to understand the complex and broad history of the English working class. This group emerged from the changes induced by the industrial revolution in 18th and 19th century England.
The fascinating aspects of the book are the discussions it provides on the life experiences of the working people. It highlights the unique cultural and political consciousness developed by the underprivileged workers despite their loss of status and freedom, and exclusion from economic and political power.
Thompson brings in a novel perspective that argues against how historians have relied on the mill owners, landowners and magistrates for the working class experiences, but never the experiences of the people themselves. Thompson, through this book, gives the people their agency by giving the reader access to quotations and documentation directly from the people. This approach is unique in understanding the history of economic thinking.
'The class experience is largely determined by the productive relations into which men are born - or enter involuntarily.’
The Economic History of Latin America Since Independence, 2014
In the course of modern economic development, Latin America has gone through a significant amount of changes pertaining to its economic structures. To understand this complex history, the book The Economic History of Latin America Since Independence is an important introduction for this region.
The book examines the consequences of inward-looking and import-substitution economics after the Great Depression. The crisis of the 1980s discusses the current prospect of export-led growth in the region. But Bulmer-Thomas goes a step further and discusses a tedious question, the question that even with an abundance of natural resources, why the region has not prospered. After centuries of freedom from colonial rule, it continues to be affected by it. He goes on to investigate the government’s privatisation policies that have not given the people a competitive advantage but have only enriched the lives of certain groups or families connected to power.
The book’s dedication, in particular, aptly sets the tone for the rest of the book:
"For the 30 percent who receive 5 percent--a ray of hope; for the 5 percent who receive 30 percent--a warning." -
Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, 2007
An engaging and light read Bad Samaritans challenges decades worth of Neo-Liberal policies which have increased inequality and global distrust. It illuminates the capitalist myth that International trade would uplift developing nations out of poverty.
Chang takes the historical route and challenges the pillars of the free market by highlighting how the United States of America and the United Kingdom used protectionism and government intervention in their industries and achieved economic prosperity. This is contrary to the claims made by the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, which promoted false promises and behaved like proxies.
The book also examines the current global economic problems and questions the status quo, which has given rise to the clash of interests between the poor and the rich nations.
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1905
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is an important book to understand the evolution of modern economics. It examines the cultural reasons for the rise of capitalism in the West and links it to the Calvinist beliefs of hard work and the fulfilment of one’s worldly duties.
This book is considered as an ideological and spiritual counter to the works of Karl Marx. But there are unique details in the book that highlight the complexities of the debate between a Weberian and a Marx camp. Hence, it provides an alternate approach to the understanding of economic change.
This book is essential for anyone interested in understanding the historical discourse in the rise of capitalism and understanding how the system has changed over the years.
‘"Remember, that money is of the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on.’
‘ … specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.’"