ESSA’s Monthly Highlights: April

The Work of Amartya Sen

I’d like to begin this Amartya Sen recommendation by invoking the words of the legendary economist John Maynard Keynes:

“The master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts …. He must be a mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher— in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular, in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must be entirely outside his regard.”

This holistic view of what an economist can be is fully embodied by the career of Amartya Sen, which should serve as an inspiration for all of us as we enter the workforce and begin to shape policy.

Amartya Sen is a philosopher and the 1998 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, whose co-created ‘capabilities’ approach revolutionised development economics and led the way towards development metrics such as HDI. This approach is outlined in “Development as Freedom”, which argues that development should be seen as a set of interwoven freedoms, the expansion of which is both the end goal and means of achieving development.

Beyond fundamentally reshaping Development Economics, Sen has a deep understanding of the need for economists to develop a broad analytical lens towards society and politics, in addition to a philosophical underpinning to our work. In this vein, “The Argumentative Indian” is a fascinating series of essays that explores Sen’s appreciation for the diverse cultural and intellectual traditions of India. The book contends with culture, social and economic stratification, identity, politics, and history in a way that represents the multidimensional perspective economists should aspire to cultivate.

I sincerely hope that this recommendation has inspired you to explore the incredible work of Amartya Sen and to become the master-economist that Keynes dreamed of.

– Recommended by Ben Griffiths (Writer)

Debt: The First 5000 Years – By David Graeber

Through an anthropological examination of ancient civilisations, David Graeber explores the enthralling relationship between institutions, debt and society, and the implications this has upon modern day capitalism. In doing so, he dispels many of the inaccurate assumptions that our understanding of economics is built upon, such as the myth of barter as told by Adam Smith. To obtain the most benefit from the book, read it with an open mind; and whilst you do not have to concur with the ideas, try to empathise with their motives, and this will help refine your ability to think critically about the world.

-Recommended by David Li (Writer)

Context –  By Brad Harris

Listen to the first episode HERE on Spotify.

In this must-listen podcast, award winning historian Brad Harris uses a series of book synopses to explore the historical underpinnings of the modern world. In an incredibly informative manner, he synthesises the ideas of many famous books from, ‘Guns, Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond’ to ‘The structure of scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn’. In easy to digest 20-50minute episodes, he provides an insight into the great ideas of many renowned authors. Each episode builds upon its predecessor, helping to illuminate trends in the scientific and moral progress of human society. The narration style is emblematic of a radio advertisement or movie trailer which may be irritating to some and, although not apolitical, it does a tremendous job in providing an informative and thought-provoking podcast which everyone can take something away from.

-Recommended by Aaron Korczak-Krzeczowski (Subcommittee)

The Sure Thin‪g Podcast – Produced by the Australian Financial Review

Listen HERE on Apple Podcasts

I must disclaim that this podcast has a very questionable relevance to economics. Hosted by investigative reporter Angus Brigg, this weekly series traces the story of how two university friends hatched a near perfect plan to game currency markets to their advantage using inside information, only do be undone by the desire for more. The two friends, Lukas Camay and Christopher Hill, were high-achieving commerce graduates from Monash University before becoming a currency trader at NAB and a statistician at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) respectively. With Chris’s insider knowledge about ABS statistics before they were officially released to the public, the pair were able to make over $7 million in what was the largest insider trading case in Australian History. Through interviewing Chris, past friends of the pair, finance experts and criminology academics studying white-collar crime, we come to understand the psychological drives behind such a remarkable and large-scale fraud. If you are vaguely interested in crime stories, finance or simply find some enjoyment in learning about the terrible decisions made by others, I would highly recommend this podcast series.

-Recommended by Josh Clyne (Editor)