A Little History of Economics Book Summary - A Little History of Economics Book explained in key points
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A Little History of Economics summary

Niall Kishtainy

A whistle-stop tour of the major questions posed by economists through the centuries, from Aristotle to Thomas Piketty

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26 mins

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A Little History of Economics by Niall Kishtainy is an engaging and accessible introduction to the evolution of economic thought. It traces the development of key concepts from ancient times to the present day, and explains their relevance to modern society.

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    A Little History of Economics
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    The first question for early economists was the role of money and merchants.

    Among many other things, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle was probably the first economist. Aristotle thought deeply about the concept of money, in the fourth century BCE. Money, of course, can be incredibly useful: it measures what something is worth, and allows things to easily pass from one person to another. 

    But money also opens dangerous doors. If an olive farmer, say, realizes that he can make money from selling olives, he might begin to grow them purely for profit, rather than only growing enough to support his family. Aristotle called this commerce, and he found it wholly unnatural. Even worse were those who used money to make more money – the moneylenders, who lent money to people for a price. We now call this interest. 

    Aristotle’s grumbling didn’t have much of an impact on the development of an economy, though. Commerce, once it had begun, was here to stay.

    The key message here is: The first question for early economists was the role of money and merchants. 

    Like Aristotle, early Christian thinkers didn’t much care for moneylenders. In the thirteenth century, St. Thomas of Aquinas detested moneylending, which he called “usury.” The only proper, Christian use for money, he believed, was buying and selling. 

    But the practice of moneylending was becoming very convenient for the merchants of Venice and Genoa, who were beginning to trade with other cities in Europe and the Mediterranean. The first banks emerged here to let merchants store their money and easily settle debts. 

    Peasants began abandoning their farms, where they toiled under feudal lords, to work for themselves in cities in exchange for money. Soon even the Catholic church began softening its stance on usury: in the twelfth century, the pope even made an Italian merchant called Homobonus a saint.

    A few centuries later, as European ships began exploring the world, they came upon civilizations rich in silver and gold. European merchant-explorers looted them, delivering vast wealth to European rulers who bought ever-fancier castles and outfits, among other things. So began mercantilism: the alliance between merchants and European rulers. 

    In England, economists such as Thomas Mun began thinking about how their country could become richer than its rivals. He believed that what was good for merchants was good for the nation. Countries set up special companies allowing investors to pool their money and share in the profits, like the East India Company, in which Mun was an official. 

    In medieval times, religion and personal relationships ruled economic life. Mercantilism was a harbinger of change, a pivot to the industrial age in which money would take precedence.

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    What is A Little History of Economics about?

    A Little History of Economics (2017) is a whistle-stop tour of the major questions posed by economists through the centuries, from Aristotle to Thomas Piketty. It examines questions of inequality, selfishness, and the role government should play in economies. 

    A Little History of Economics Review

    A Little History of Economics (2017) by Niall Kishtainy provides a fascinating exploration of the economy and its impact on our lives. Here's why you should give it a read:

    • With clear explanations and relatable examples, the book helps demystify complex economic concepts and makes them accessible to all.
    • It covers the influential ideas and thinkers that shaped our economic systems, offering a comprehensive overview in an engaging and informative way.
    • By connecting economics to real-world events, the book shows how economic theories have shaped history and continue to impact society today, making it an insightful and thought-provoking read.

    Who should read A Little History of Economics?

    • The econo-curious
    • Those looking for a bird’s eye view of economics
    • Students of broad-scope history

    About the Author

    Niall Kishtainy is a professor at the London School of Economics and the University of Warwick. He believes a study of the history of economics can explain a lot about our modern times, and help us move forward in a better way. 

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    A Little History of Economics FAQs 

    What is the main message of A Little History of Economics?

    The main message of A Little History of Economics is to understand the development and impact of economic theories throughout history.

    How long does it take to read A Little History of Economics?

    The reading time for A Little History of Economics varies depending on the reader, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is A Little History of Economics a good book? Is it worth reading?

    A Little History of Economics is a captivating and insightful book that provides a solid understanding of economics. It's definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of A Little History of Economics?

    The author of A Little History of Economics is Niall Kishtainy.

    What to read after A Little History of Economics?

    If you're wondering what to read next after A Little History of Economics, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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