Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Moss and Ippolito

Here's a shout-out for two books that may ocunt as a genre. One is David A. Moss, A Concise Guide to Macroeconomics (2007), which filled the course of a plane trip east a couple of weeks back. The other is Richard A. Ippolito, Economics for Lawyers (2005), which has occupied a few idle hours since summer.

The common thread is that they are both bare-bones intros to technical subjects--books that pare their subjects down to an (irreducible?) minimum, without gross oversimplification or serious intellectual dishonesty.

I suppose a second common thread is that they are both "service" books, written about one discipline for another. Moss says his book "began as a note on macroeconomics for my students," i.e., at the Harvard Business School. Ippolito's book developed (per a jacket note) out of his "immenely popular class at George Mason Universtity Law School." Popular indeed.

As to the macro book--I never actually took a course in macro and so learned what little I know ono the fly. I've never quite understood why professors do it as they do. Teaching econ to adolescents must be a challenge in any event, and the macro books, with all their charts and graphs, must leave most students entirely ignorant of exactly what they are talking about, and why. Moss' students are a bit older, and by definition, more or less the cream of the crop. Still, I think he does right to begin with some explicit non-patronizing introduction as to just what he is doing, and why. From there, he plunges headlong into the basics: money supply, inflation, expectations. He follows with an admirable "short history" and just a bit of GDP accounting, and a discussion of exchange rates. The only disappointment is that he published just a bit too early: he doesn't get to discuss the almost total collapse of macro theory in the current uproara.

Ippolito's is a bit more ambitious. Once again, it is most easily understood in comparison to a conventional textbook. Ippolito tries very hard to throw out just about everything that isn't essential to the main line of his argument, and in particular, to what he perceives as the needs of lawyers.

Given the context, it is perhaps particularly worth noting what Ippolito's book is not: it is not a text in "law and economics"--that monster hybrid bred out of professional restlessness and by a crude theory of operant conditioning. There are a number of books that purport to do "law and economics" for law student, but I never saw one that got it quite right. They all seem to assume either too little or too much. Too little, in the sense that they feel constrained to some basic economic groundwork although they don't really want to. And too much, in that they virtually all roll off into flights of fancy on the nether end of professional learning. Ipollito understands he is here to lay the basics. He does his best to couple them with plausible illustrative examples from basic law material. The best thing I can say for both these books is that I wish I taught courses in which I could use them (although I suspect I will steal just a bit from each, for my course in basic finance). If there is a genre here, it's a worthy one. In any event, the books are worthy in their own right.

1 comment:

chrismealy said...

While you're on the subject of economics and the law (how's that for a clunker of a transition), have you ever read '"Coase v. Pigou" Reexamined' by A. W. Brian Simpson? It's a hoot. As a fellow L&E skeptic I think you'll enjoy it.