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Live Local, Live Small: Thoughts on starting an economics reading and study group

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One of my Live Local resolutions last year was to start an economics reading and study group.  I failed at that plan for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was lack of proper planning and a dearth of time. Apparently, I do not have a good personality for book clubs either. As my close friends (and Jock especially) will tell you, I am loud, domineering and overly energetic in my opinions about topics that raise my passions.

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“You could go ahead and put a proposed list together,” one friend ventured when I lamented my shortcomings on this point. “Then it’s half done.” 

When did I start hanging out with Mary Poppins?  I wondered. 

But that is a good point. There is no reason not to put a list out there and see if anyone wants to read the books, and either drop by to discuss them or begin a conversation thread in encore’s pages.  Generally we have found that successful book clubs (at least for us) do best when they announce their selections for a year at a time. Rather than me put together a reading list of books I like and agree with, in theory a book club/study group should showcase a broad selection that looks at a topic from different and opposing sides.

Readers of this column will recognize some titles because I have discussed them previously; other titles might come as a shock. Instead of putting together a complete 12-month list, I would like to hear what our readers think should be included. I have nine already, so, please, comment on our website, on this article, to add in three more books for the list. Without further ado, here are my suggestions for a beginning local economics reading list:

1. “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered,” by EF Schumacher: Originally published in 1973, it is still relevant today as it was 40 years ago—perhaps more so.

2. “Locavesting: The Revolution in Local Investing and How to Profit From It,” by Amy Cortese, published by Wiley in 2011. I bought this when it was still in hardback (it is now in paperback). Parts of it were very inspiring to me; others were mildly baffling. I think learning some basics about entrepreneurship and business management wouldn’t be a bad idea for many economics writers.

To that end…

3. “Small Business for Dummies” by Jim Schell. I think it would be an interesting exercise for the study group to put together a made-up business and spend a couple months trying to run it on paper.

4. “Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered,” by Woody Tasch, Chelsea Green Publishing 2010. Besides having the perfect ‘70s porn-star name, the author has a couple of good points and ideas, not the least of which is the observation that, for most people, the home they live in is the most important investment they will ever make in their lives. However, most of the book reads like a high-school junior’s rant/manifesto against “the man” and has little relevance in the way our financial system actually works. But it should generate some great conversation.

5. “Your Money or Your Life: Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Ind ependence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century,” by Vicki Robin, Joe Dominguez and Monique Tilford, currently in print with Penguin, most recent edition is from 2008. A book that has at times been my barometer and much-needed wake-up call. It is far from perfect, but nonetheless quite intriguing and well worth discussion. If people were open to it, doing the financial check-up in the book could also be a great discussion tool.

6. “Alaska” by James Michener, 1988, Random House. Surprised? Well, a novel can be a powerful way to converse on ideas. “Alaska,” like Michener’s other novels (“Hawaii,” “The Covenant,” “The Source,” “Poland,” etc.), looks at the epic, sweeping history of the area. We (the U.S.) seemed baffled by this purchase in the middle of the Civil War, and we largely ignored it for almost 100 years. What developed during that time (and the gold rush) is the closest example of what Libertarian philosophy put into practice in the U.S. actually looked like.

7. “The Moneychangers” by Upton Sinclair, looks at Wall Street speculation and panic in the early 20th century. Still, it reads like our current news coverage. You might remember Upton Sinclair from “The Jungle,” his novel about meat processing in the Chicago stockyards. He ran for governor of California on a single-issue platform: End poverty in California.

8. Arthur Hailey’s “The Moneychangers” is my final suggestion for novels. It is a similar but not identical novel set in the mid-century banking age. It looks at the introduction of personal credit cards to people’s daily lives (among other aspects of personal finance).

9. “The Gospel of Wealth”: Written at the end of the 19th century, this is Andrew Carnegie’s manifesto on wealth, accumulation and responsibility. Considering how many people’s lives are touched everyday by the projects that owe their existence to Carnegie’s money, it seems quite appropriate.

So what would you add to the list as the last three selections? We haven’t really touched much on farming or local food within an economic system. Nor, frankly, are there many books that look at the Milton Friedman school of thought.

There are a tremendous number of fringe publications that have cropped up in the last few years about these topics. Some come at the topic from the right, others from the left. I guess part of what I find fascinating about the whole thing is that looking at the health of a local economy—and what individuals can do outside of a government-sponsored program—appeals across partisan lines. It hits right at the heart of what developing communities and looking after the people you care about is all about.

Forgive me for not getting the discussion group off the ground in real life. But, now, since we are talking about finishing the list, perhaps we could start discussing this not just on encore’s website and on its pages, but also among ourselves at dinner, coffee, brunch, and over drinks. Amazing things have come out of unexpected conversations with friends over food and beverages.

Let us hope great solutions for your household, neighborhood and our community are waiting to be discovered and developed by the great minds of our area. In the meantime, if anyone wants to discuss these books and brainstorm how we can apply their ideas locally, I am avialable and would love to get to work on it with you.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Lisa

    May 14, 2015 at 2:14 pm

    Not a book but a blog…Mr. Money Moustache. Can be obnoxious and opinionated but some of his proclamations would stimulate interesting discussion. I wish I’d been exposed to his ideas at 25 rather than59.

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