The best books on economics and globalization

Pietra Rivoli Author Of The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade
By Pietra Rivoli

The Books I Picked & Why

A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity

By Luigi Zingales

A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity

Why this book?

Zingales is a brilliant academic economist, but this book leads the reader with both head and heart. Zingales is concerned that the US is on a path to similarities with his native Italy, where markets and politics are both corrupted by cronyism and nepotism. The book’s appeal is that Zingales's compelling argument cannot be put in a left or right box. He lays out evidence to suggest that more open competition will address both the inequality concerns of liberals, as well as the free market priorities of conservatives. Today, Zingales seems to suggest, we have the worst of both worlds.


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The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty

By James A. Robinson, Daron Acemoglu

The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty

Why this book?

The fundamental challenge of governance can be summed up: How do we get to Denmark? What is the path to achieve a stable, prosperous, and free society? Acemeglu and Robinson lay out the path, and unfortunately it is rocky and often impassable. The book explains the delicate balance that is required of both government and society: the state must be present, but not oppressive, it must be powerful, but also trusted. The pitfalls on the path are many, from predatory elites to inert citizens, but the narrow corridor does indeed lead to Denmark.


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The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy

By Dani Rodrik

The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy

Why this book?

Those who advocate most strongly for open borders and free trade – typically economists –focus their arguments on economic growth. Rodrik demonstrates that in opening borders something is lost, however, beyond the typical costs born by laid off manufacturing workers. Free trade can only be achieved with corollary changes in governance: to achieve truly open borders for goods, services, and capital, either democratic responsiveness or national self-determination will be casualties. Rodrik’s case for “you can’t have it all” is compelling.


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Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty

By Esther Duflo, Abhijit V. Banerjee

Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty

Why this book?

Banerjee and Duflo examine poverty at ground level, far from grand debates about the miracle of market competition vs. the necessity of aid and instead closer to the people who actually experience poverty. The entire book is centered on a simple question: What works? And how can we figure out what works? The authors have combined economics with psychology and empirical methods to understand the foundations of how the poor make decisions: the answer, it turns out, is that the process follows human decision-making everywhere. The challenge is that circumstances surrounding poverty make “good” decisions much more difficult. The practical approach to poverty pioneered by Bannerjee and Duflo earned a well-deserved Nobel prize in 2019.


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A Gesture Life

By Chang-Rae Lee

A Gesture Life

Why this book?

This is a novel that has stuck with me since I first read it more than 10 years ago. Doc Hata, the main character, has composed a life that is a series of gestures, never quite realizing – or does he? -- that his composition is not a life at all. Lee plumbs the depths of the human heart with astonishing restraint and delicacy. But the novel is also embedded in a globalization narrative: Doc Hata crosses the Pacific to a new life, leaving everything and nothing behind.


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