There have been a few attempts over the years to condense the whole of the vast subject of Austrian Economics down into a few hours of reading. Let’s summarise several of these attempts below:
- Henry Hazlitt – Economics in One Lesson
- The standard book, for decades. Written beautifully by a New York student of Von Mises, this short book has served several generations of people well, to help them understand the complex-yet-simple subject of what we might call real economics, as opposed to the ridiculous Keynesian mathematical nonsense that most modern universities pass off as ‘economics’. If it has a main flaw, this comes from its episodic nature, which only tangentially describes the Austrian School in a series of separate interconnected stories. It’s the Pulp Fiction of the Austrian Primer movie.
- Carl Menger – Principles of Economics
- This is of course the genesis book of the entire Austrian School, written by the school’s founder. However, although relatively short, it’s still not really a book for beginners, because it quickly goes deeply into areas which perhaps require a certain amount of pre-studying. If we add to this, that it’s written in fairly complex 19th century High German – translated into English – and full of jargon which never really made it into the 20th century, then it’s perhaps a book best read after you have already read one of its descendant books, such as Human Action.
- Gene Callahan – Economics for Real People
- When first published in the early 2,000s, this book quickly became a rival to Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. Being more clearly directed towards the Austrian School, it did attempt to supplant Hazlitt’s primer. However, in the end I think it only partially succeeded. Hazlitt’s book still remained the go-to reference, despite its own problems. I think this is because Callahan’s book goes perhaps a little too deep and a little too esoteric on some topics, and never really feels like it’s part of what I might call the Mises Institute Main Line. The book lacks a committed all-in approach and has a slightly stand-offish feel to some of its own core descriptions. Callahan himself never really became a hard-core ‘Mises Institute Regular’ and his book has faded out of the limelight over time.
- Eamonn Butler – Austrian Economics – A Primer
- The shortest of all the various introductions to Austrian Economics, this is still an excellent read if you want a telescoped primer which you can read in a single short train journey or on a one-hour flight. The problem here, is that it’s perhaps a little too short. Just when things get interesting, the book moves on, and it’s more a series of notes than a narrative. However, it does what it says on the tin, so there can be no complaints.
That brings us to yet another attempt to remake the movie, which is Per Bylund’s How to Think about the Economy. Produced in conjunction with the Mises Institute, it’s certainly as short as Hazlitt’s book, however it does have a much more definite focus upon the Austrian School. Without the even-handed philosophical nature of Callahan’s primer, it also avoids the much more complex language of Menger’s original Germanic sledge hammer. And going the other way, although it’s short, it’s not too short.
Having read all of the books above, I think they’re all still good in their own ways. However, if you’re after a solid but rapid introduction to the Austrian School, with an absolute minimum of fuss, but you want something deeper than a legal briefing, then this is the right book for you.
It tells the whole story of the Austrian School within a single unitary cohesive story and somehow manages to squeeze virtually the entire subject into about two hours of reading; so, it’s a time machine as well as a book!
Even given a clear attempt to be precise and concise like Butler’s book, Bylund’s attempt does still offer up concepts going beyond the absolute minimum. For instance, it introduces the idea of ‘unrealized’ losses in addition to Bastiat’s ‘unseen’ losses, as generally created by all intrusive government regulations. There are numerous other examples of this extra depth, but perhaps I’m straying into the realms of being too long-winded myself.
Download the book yourself to find out how good it is!