Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Amazingly profound

Paul Heyne was a breath of fresh air.  His introductory textbook, The Economic Way of Thinking, (kept alive by Peter Boettke and David Prychitko after Heyne's death) is probably the best way to enter the field.  His A Student's Guide to Economics is a pocket-sized introduction to his introduction.

Here, Don Boudreaux points us to Heyne's last lecture.  He clarifies much -- for those new to the field as well as those already immersed.

Here is just one gem:  Every standard discussion introduces "the economic problem" as based on the hard fact of scarcity -- and the implied problem of how to figure out what to do with the scarce resources that are available at any moment.  Markets are then shown to be a pretty good way to get the job done.  The more abstract the presentation (or the curves or the math), the less useful.

But Heyne clarifies.  The real problem, he notes, is one of coordination.  Market prices coordinate immense complexity. 

Here is the simplest mental experiment:  Try to think about all of the supply chains that have (somehow) formed to serve any one of us.  We have no hope of ever fathoming these.

But an uncountable number of supply chains form -- and update -- all the time. And that is how markets address the scarcity problem.  Heyne's approach, then, is the one that is much deeper and considerably richer.

A great mind can say a great deal by developing very basic thoughts and insights.