- Ha-Joon Chang Economics: A User’s Guide (Penguin Books)
Before diving in too deeply it’s important to grasp the basics. Chang’s book is an excellent introduction because he provides both an overview of basic economic concepts and an over-arching scepticism of the discipline of economics as it currently exists, which he charges with having failed in its primary duty of explaining how the economy works. A useful introductory read. Once you’re done with this you might want to read Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t tell you About Capitalism, too.
- Ellen Meiksins Wood The Origin of Capitalism (Verso Books)
If you want to understand modern economics it’s important to have a historically-informed understanding of where the economic system that dominates worldwide – capitalism – came from. Wood’s book is the best short single volume account of the rise of capitalism, and it also engages usefully with a range of different theories about the rise of capitalism.
- Laleh Khalili Sinews of War and Trade: Shipping and Capitalism in the Arabian Peninsula (Verso Books)
The shipping container is arguably capitalism’s most important invention, given that its standardised dimensions have facilitated falling shipping costs, increased distribution of commodities and an ever-broader circulation of capital worldwide. However, the global shipping industry is embedded in specific place. Brilliantly illustrating how flows of capital, labour and goods are intimately entwined with humanities perceived command over the environment, Khalili’s book superbly explores what today’s economic globalisation looks like from the ships and shores of the world economy.
- Jenny Chan, Mark Selden and Pun Ngai Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn, and the Lives of Workers (Pluto Press)
Of course, one of the main beneficiaries of the expansion of the shipping industry has been Apple, whose global supply chains converge on the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, Foxconn, in the Chinese city of Shenzhen. Based on interviews with workers and undercover reporting, this book catalogues the lives of the Chinese working class in the context of both a specific firm and a wider global economy. The authors succeed in capturing both the immense difficulties face by Chinese workers, and the opportunities opened up through their ongoing resistance.
- Simon Pirani Burning Up: A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption (Pluto Press)
Any budding economist needs to confront the relationship between capitalism and climate change. Pirani’s book usefully catalogues the rapid expansion of the fossil fuel economy in the second half of the twentieth century. Focussing especially on demand for and use of fossil fuels, Pirani synthesises a vast amount of data and allows us to better understand the role of economic decision-making as a driver of climate change.