Popular Economics Readings

29 January 2016 at 3:41 pm by Peter G. Klein



The Open Syllabus Project is a useful repository of course reading lists from almost every academic discipline. (Hey, we had the idea first!) A fun feature is the ability to browse by popularity, i.e., to see the most frequently assigned readings in a particular field. Of course, the sample consists of syllabi posted on public websites, so it may be biased toward particular kinds of courses or universities. Still, the findings are interesting. This article complains that The Communist Manifesto is near the top across all disciplines, but confusingly bounces back and forth between economics and other fields and doesn’t distinguish among textbooks, research monographs, and research articles.

I made my own list of most popular items under Economics, excluding textbooks and other non-research materials. The results are interesting:

  1. Coase, “The Problem of Social Cost
  2. Smith, The Wealth of Nations
  3. Keyness, The General Theory
  4. Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons
  5. Marx, Capital
  6. Pritchett, “Divergence, Big Time
  7. Coase, “The Nature of the Firm
  8. Tiebout, “A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures”
  9. Akerlof, “The Market for Lemons”
  10. Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society”
  11. North, Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance
  12. Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom
  13. Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents
  14. Friedman, “Monetary Policy
  15. Solow, “A Contribution to the Theory of Economic Growth”
  16. David, “Clio and the Economics of QWERTY
  17. Spence, “Job Market Signaling”
  18. Marx, Communist Manifesto
  19. Dornbusch, “Expectations and Exchange Rate Dynamics”
  20. Easterly, The Elusive Quest for Growth
  21. Friedman, “The Role of Monetary Policy”
  22. Grossman and Helpman, “Protection for Sale”
  23. Diamond, “Social Security”
  24. Kremer, “Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990”
  25. Stigler, “The Theory of Economic Regulation”
  26. Freeman, “Are Your Wages Set in China?”
  27. Duflo, “Schooling and Labor Market Consequences of School Construction in Indonesia”
  28. Arrow, “Uncertainty and the Welfare Effects of Medical Care”
  29. Rogoff, “The Purchasing Power Parity Puzzle”
  30. Barro, “Are Government Bonds Net Worth?”

Pretty much all classics, and not surprising to see any on a reading list. But some surprising omissions. No Samuelson, Becker, Lucas, Krugman, Sargent, Kahneman, or Fama, just to mention a few Nobelists. No Shleifer, Tirole, Mankiw, Holmstrom, Simon, Jensen, Kreps, Alchian, Demsetz, and others with highly cited SSCI or RePEC papers. Of course, these are undergraduate as well as graduate syllabi, so highly technical articles assigned to PhD students are less likely to make the cut. Still, this might be a good “Books and Articles Every Economist Should Know” kind of list.