Good Economics for Hard Times.

· December 19, 2020

A well researched and genuine work, accounting for those the markets have left behind.


Hard questions

This books covers a vast spectrum of problems that are the primary part of contemporary economic (and political) discourse. The way the book is laid out, the initial chapters tackle problems, to which the solutions are more concrete, with well known case studies to the pros, and cons of various policies, but as the book progresses, the answers to a lot of our hardest questions are not clear. There is a lot of nuance, and the best we can do is make informed decisions based on certain experiments. Economics is not an exact science, and the Nobel prize winning authors, Esther and Abhijit acknowledge this early on on the book.

The books approaches most of the problems by the lens of Randomised Controlled Trials, or RTCs, which formed a majority of the authors’ work. Here is a very brief overview of the topics that are covered.

Immigration, and its impact.

This is very pertinent today, with a general international trend being more anit immigration. Even in our country, things like the CAA are clear indicators the government stance on this issue. It is very clear, based on years of short, and long term research, that immigration of low skilled labour has never hurt the region, but rather had positive impacts. This is a very important thing to note for all the bureaucrats that make the law, but its quite clear that these decisions are not driven solely based on economics or general altruism.

Trade Wars

This is a very interesting chapter, where trade wars, and their impact on local small and medium size enterprises are explored. The findings are very insightful, and should definitely be something anyone in the position of power must read while creating such policies.

People’s preferences, and likes

This is a nice chapter, and explores parts of our behaviour from the lens of behavorial economics. If you have read Daniel Kanheman’s works, a lot of this part should be familiar, but the authors do a good job on sufficiently tying it with their source material, with some very interesting experiments.


This is where things start getting hazy, and honestly, I found this chapter as a bit of a drag. It was slow, and extremely nuance. It was, of course, very well researched, but man was it a bore at times. There are so many perspectives, with no clear answers. It felt like pages on pages of “So maybe this causes that, but then, there is this other thing that affects this third thing, so we can’t really be sure how this first hing is affected, and whether any conclusion is reasonably definitive”. But this is the sad reality of inexact sciences like economics, there are rarely right answers, and that’s just the nature of this discourse.

Global Warming

They tackle the question of climate change, and how it affects both rich and poor economies. There are some rather unfortunate conclusions in this chapter, regarding why people don’t adopt environmentally conscious means of development. There is also sufficiently detailed discussion on responsibility on climate, and why big polluters like India and China, don’t (and shouldn’t) foot a majority of the blame.


This was a very interesting chapter, especially for me, since I work at a place that is using AI for automation. The authors have very nuanced take on the matter, and look at both the “luddite” view, and the more pro automation view. There are interesting concepts explored, like the automation tax, for companies wanting to automate tasks, thereby reducing employment of people. The questions posed here are very tough, and gave me a lot more to think about when it comes to using AI for good, and how automation is obviously the way forward, be must be done in a responsible manner.

Taxes, and cash transfer schemes.

And this is the final topic covered in this book. This has some truly spicy takes on taxation, and the current hot topic of universal basic income. It is clear that the authors or more left leaning in their recommendations, but all their reasoning seems to be quite solid, and its clear they really care for the society.

Let’s just be nice

The core arguments are grounded firmly on treating the poor with dignity, and respect. The pervasive classism (and all the other -isms) in our society, trickle their way down to public policy, which leads to increased inequality, and unhappier people.

“It is easy to forget, especially in a crisis, the need to protect as far as possible the dignity of those being helped.”

Its made abundantly clear that our rabid obsession with growth, and numbers have overshadowed the needs of our people.


This book was very interesting, and well researched. The problem is that people who need to read this book, will never read this book. This book isn’t for everybody, its dry sometimes, and very wordy during other times. But it contains some very important ideas.

for anyone interested in such topics, this is an essential read. But for me, its a 3.5/5. Its a drag sometimes, but the more interesting chapters more than make for the shortcomings.

“The call to action is not just for academic economists—it is for all of us who want a better, saner, more humane world. Economics is too important to be left to economists.”

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