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

Who am I?

I am a professor at Georgetown University, and I have long been interested in the promise and peril of global markets and the fundamental question of why some countries are rich and others poor. I've always loved looking at globalization at ground level: My travels to Chinese factories, Washington trade negotiations, and African cocoa farms have been great adventures of both mind and spirit, and I always leave with a new friend who has illuminated my understanding of this complex world. But in a late-life shift (that is not as random as it sounds) my current work revolves around criminal justice in the US. I currently direct the Pivot Program at Georgetown.

I wrote...

Book cover of The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade

What is my book about?

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy is a critically-acclaimed narrative that illuminates the globalization debates and reveals the key factors to success in global business. Tracing a T-shirt's life story from a Texas cotton field to a Chinese factory and back to a U.S. storefront before arriving at the used clothing market in Africa, the book uncovers the political and economic forces at work in the global economy. Along the way, this fascinating exploration addresses a wealth of compelling questions about politics, trade, economics, ethics, and the impact of history on today's business landscape. This new printing of the second edition includes a revised preface and a new epilogue with updates through 2014 on the people, industries, and policies related to the T-shirt's life story.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Luigi Zingales,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Capitalism for the People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Born in Italy, University of Chicago economist Luigi Zingales witnessed firsthand the consequences of high inflation and unemployment--paired with rampant nepotism and cronyism--on a country's economy. This experience profoundly shaped his professional interests, and in 1988 he arrived in the United States, armed with a political passion and the belief that economists should not merely interpret the world, but should change it for the better. In A Capitalism for the People, Zingales makes a forceful, philosophical, and at times personal argument that the roots of American capitalism are dying, and that the result is a drift toward the more corrupt…

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

Why did I love 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.

By James A. Robinson, Daron Acemoglu,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Narrow Corridor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Why is it so difficult to develop and sustain liberal democracy? The best recent work on this subject comes from a remarkable pair of scholars, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson. In their latest book, The Narrow Corridor, they have answered this question with great insight." -Fareed Zakaria, The Washington Post

From the authors of the international bestseller Why Nations Fail, a crucial new big-picture framework that answers the question of how liberty flourishes in some states but falls to authoritarianism or anarchy in others--and explains how it can continue to thrive despite new threats.

In Why Nations Fail, Daron…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Dani Rodrik,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Globalization Paradox as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this eloquent challenge to the reigning wisdom on globalization, Dani Rodrik reminds us of the importance of the nation-state, arguing forcefully that when the social arrangements of democracies inevitably clash with the international demands of globalization, national priorities should take precedence. Combining history with insight, humor with good-natured critique, Rodrik's case for a customizable globalization supported by a light frame of international rules shows the way to a balanced prosperity as we confront today's global challenges in trade, finance, and labor markets.

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

Why did I love 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.

By Esther Duflo, Abhijit V. Banerjee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Poor Economics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why do the poor borrow to save? Why do they miss out on free life-saving immunizations, but pay for unnecessary drugs? In Poor Economics , Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, two practical visionaries working toward ending world poverty, answer these questions from the ground. In a book the Wall Street Journal called marvellous, rewarding," the authors tell how the stress of living on less than 99 cents per day encourages the poor to make questionable decisions that feed,not fight,poverty. The result is a radical rethinking of the economics of poverty that offers a ringside view of the lives of…

A Gesture Life

By Chang-Rae Lee,

Book cover of A Gesture Life

Why did I love 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.

By Chang-Rae Lee,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Gesture Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Franklin Hata, Korean by birth but raised in Japan, is an outsider in American society, but he embodies the values of the town he calls his own - he is polite and keeps himself to himself. Franklin deflects everyone with courtesy and impenetrable decorum, and becomes a respected elder of his small, prosperous American town. 'You make a whole life out of gestures and politeness,' Sunny tells her adoptive father. But as Sunny tries to unpick her father's scrupulous self-control, the story he has repressed emerges: his life as a medic in the Japanese Army and his love for a…

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