Pro Bono Econos UQ reading list

Last Friday, I was a panelist at a Pro Bono Econos UQ event on consulting. In my remarks, I mentioned a bunch of resources I thought would be helpful for students, and subsequently several of the students who attended have asked for a list, and hence I’ve prepared this post.


In my remarks, I emphasised to the students that consulting is simply one means of making a living as a professional, and their focus should be on getting really good at their chosen profession, whether that be economics, accounting, finance, or whatever. In this regard, I mentioned my two favourite books on reaching higher levels of performance:

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

Then I observed that, no matter how good you get, problems will inevitably arise from time-to-time, and one great challenge you may face is coping with stress. So I recommended students consult what I think is the most practical guide to coping with stress I’ve found:

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie

This book emphasises the importance of ‘living in day-tight compartments’. Carnegie opens the book with a story about how a future Oxford medical professor’s life was changed for the better as a young man in 1871 when he read and understood these words from Thomas Carlyle:

Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.

As Carnegie notes, many centuries earlier, Jesus had expressed the same wisdom in the Sermon on the Mount:

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

I told the students that careers can survive even huge mistakes, as the great man of the twentieth century Winston Churchill proved, so you need to keep things in perspective. For an analysis of Churchill’s many failures, including Gallipoli in 1915 and the restoration of the Gold Standard in 1925 among others, I recommend Boris Johnson’s excellent book:

The Churchill Factor

In the Q&A session at the event, one student asked me if I thought economists were still influential in this current age of populism. I began my response by noting that economists are critical in the modern mixed economy, and I said that has been the case since the Great Depression in the 1930s, and I recommended they watch John Kenneth Galbraith’s excellent TV series from the late-seventies, particularly the episode on John Maynard Keynes:

The Age of Uncertainty, episode 7: The Mandarin Revolution

Then I went on to say that the current US-China trade war provides a major opportunity for economists to be influential, as the trade war is contrary to basic economic principles. In my view, economists can be influential despite populism, but they need to sharpen their communication and presentation skills. Milton Friedman was probably the most articulate and persuasive advocate for free trade in living memory, and I recommended this episode of Friedman’s early 1980s TV series Free to Choose, an episode which featured Donald Rumsfeld, Jagdish Bhagwati, and Helen Hughes as discussants in the episode’s second half:

Free to Choose, part 2: The Tyranny of Control

Finally, I noted widespread concerns over the very narrow, highly theoretical training of modern US economists and why it’s important to remain practical. During the financial crisis, only a few US economists, such as Paul Krugman, Larry Summers, and Brad Delong, were able to speak intelligibly about the crisis, as the models many other US economists were working with were deficient. A few years ago, Paul Romer wrote an excellent paper on the The Trouble with Macroeconomics which is well worth reading.

I would also refer students to my posts:

The 7 habits of highly effective economists (1-3)

The 7 habits of highly effective economists (4-7)

Recommended reading: This is Marketing by Seth Godin

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