I might have written this as a private memo to Robert Murphy but its contents will be interesting to everyone.
I’m in the process of reviewing his teacher manual for his forthcoming high school text on economics: Lessons for the Young Economist. I’m beyond mere excitement about this project. It is easily the best introduction to economics I’ve ever read – and I mean pure economic theory, not just a theory of how markets work (the domain of Hazlitt’s book). He has the right frame of mind. His has mastery of the subject matter. The logic is super clear. I can’t but marvel at the intellectual organization of his pedagogy – achieving a great balance between “plain old” economics and that aspect of economic thought that is considered particularly Austrian.
Just now, as I’m going through his examples on the division of labor and the advantages of indirect vs. direct exchange, something just occurred to me. Most of the attempts at such texts falter because they are either too dry and technical for the young reader or they are littered with attempts to keep the student entertained with references to pop culture or cheesy passages that attempt to “speak the child’s language” but only end up sounding patronizing.
Dr. Murphy’s text has none of this. The prose has relentless fire without needless fireworks. What drives it forward is intellectual passion born of his own love of the topic. What’s also nice is that he is nowhere self-consciously trying to sound like someone he is not. It is his real voice, explaining everything point by point. Here is the product of vast experience and daily writing. This permits the voicing of the book to achieve a remarkable integration page to page, chapter to chapter. Though he is drawing from the whole history of the development of economics, the text ends up being strikingly original. His approach is not based on anything but his own sense of how to teach this subject.
The only comparison I can think of here is with Murray Rothbard. It has that transparency and brilliance about it. Also, this book will not be boring or useless even for people who think they already know the subject. Every page or two, I’m bumping into points that I think I might have known but I would not have thought of in this context. For example, on the problems with barter, he shows that in the real world, most goods and services would not have come into existence at all (so that there would be no trading of tractors for cobbler services because there would be no tractors or repairable shoes). In another place, he points out that one of the advantages of the division of labor is that it makes the advantages of automation more readily apparent.
Maybe these points appear in other introductory texts but the way he works them into a logical and seamless system is very impressive. So far I think I can say with confidence that this book will be the best introduction not just to Austrian economics but all economics ever written. It will have a much larger market than just high-school students. Anyone can enjoy this book and learn from it.
As I say, the text is finished. A major section of teacher manual he turned in on Friday. Soon he will be working on the study questions. Then we go into production with this treasure. Then there are many details to work out: electronic resources, e-books, online tests, and the like. We might have this ready for the Summer or Fall or the latest, if we are able to do our part at our offices. Right now, he seems slightly ahead on his production end than we are on ours.
In any case, I just want to offer an early congratulations to him for this spectacular work. He wrote the first Study Guide to Human Action and Man, Economy, and State. He will soon be able to add to another medal to his chest.