A widely anticipated textbook, “Universal Economics,” has just been published by Liberty Fund. Its authors are two noted UCLA economists, the late Armen A. Alchian and William R. Allen. Editor Jerry L. Jordan was their student and later became a member of President Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, as well as the president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Professor Alchian was probably the greatest microeconomic theorist of the 20th century, while Professor Allen’s genius was in the area of international trade and the history of economic thought. Both were tenacious mentors of mine during my student days at UCLA in the mid-1960s and early ’70s.
“Universal Economics’” 680 pages, not including its glossary and index, reflect a friendly chat I had with Professor Alchian during one of the UCLA economics department’s weekly faculty/graduate student coffee hour, in which he said, “Williams, the true test of whether someone understands his subject is whether he can explain it to someone who doesn’t know a darn thing about it.” That’s precisely what “Universal Economics” does — explain economics in a way that anyone can understand. There’s no economic jargon, just a tiny bit of simple mathematics and a few graphs.
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Chapter 1 introduces the fundamental issue that faces all of mankind — scarcity. How does one know whether things are scarce? That’s easy. When human wants exceed the means to satisfy those wants, we say that there’s scarcity. The bounds to human wants do not frequently reveal themselves; however, the means to satisfy those wants are indeed limited. Thus,…