David R. Henderson  

Fortune Encyclopedia of Economics in Alexandria

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The predecessor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics was The Fortune Encyclopedia of Economics. I received the following e-mail from Mark Skousen, just back from a trip to Greece, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, and Italy (edited for space):

I lasted visited this region in 2001, and since then, there's been incredible growth in every country except Egypt (which is still dirty and poor).

While in Alexandria, we visited the brand new magnificent Library of Alexandria, reputed to be the third largest in the world, and I checked to see what books they carried. The bias was apparent--they had 35 books by Karl Marx, 19 by Lenin, 14 by Keynes, 13 by Adam Smith, 12 by Hayek, 8 by Schumpeter, and 2 by Mises......And only one by Milton Friedman ("Capitalism and Freedom"). No books by Murray Rothbard, Art Laffer, Tyler Cowen, Walter Williams, Pete Boettke, or James Buchanan!

But they did carry Henry Hazlitt's "Economics in One Lesson."

Plus your "Fortune Encyclopedia of Economics"!

Amazingly, they carried two of mine, "Puzzles and Paradoxes in Economics" (Edward Elgar, 1997), and "The Big Three in Economics" (ME Sharpe, 2007). No doubt they chose to carry the latter because Karl Marx is listed in the subtitle.

No wonder Egypt is still a Third World country......

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (5 to date)
Ariel writes:

I visited the Library in Alexandria about two years ago and made the same observation.

However, the library is more a tourist attraction than a library. I saw very few Egyptians actually using it as a library. Instead the building was filled with guided tours and foreigners conducting research.

Also, of all the activities done by regular Egyptians, visiting the library and reading ranks very low. Even if quality economics books filled the library, it wouldn't make much of a difference.

Its the politics that destroy economics in Egypt. An Egyptian literate in Adam Smith, Milton Friedman and the like would still have no influence over Egypt's economic system.

But thinking about it, I'm sure if all the "economics" books in the library were Marxist, there would be no outcry. If they were all pro-Free markets, someone would say something.

More significantly, however, is that American University of Cairo (AUC) bookstore, supposedly one of the best English-language bookstores in the country, did not have an economics section at all when I visited! That is the larger issue.

david writes:

A more humble individual might have figured that countries that are not America might have less interest in writers whose primary area of influence is American.

I mean, Boettke? Guy's got six books, four of which were written after 2000. And the Austrian school is a heterodox minority to begin with. Why would the Library be stocking it?

He's also inflating the number of books by Marx and Lenin, since the count includes translations. Accusing the library of only including his book for Marx (ignoring the book's merry conclusion in favor of capitalism, because those ignorant Egyptians can't possibly be reading those books, right?) is bizarre in light of the, y'know, 12 books by Hayek.

As for the five countries, Egypt's 2008 real growth rate tops all five at 7.2% (Greece 2.9%, Turkey 1.1%, Israel: 4.2%, Italy -1%), so I wager that someone's growth detector not quite reliable.

woupiestek writes:

I though that Islamic countries preferred to return to the days of Mohammed, when every country was a third world country (or less). So Egypt is doing a splendid job, actually.

Chris writes:

Either way, Skousen's books are highly recommended for an intro into who's who in econ. Both ''The Making of Modern Econ'' and especially ''The Big 3 in Economics''. I have learned much from both. (I haven't read ''Paradox's...'')

Foda writes:

i'll add my voice to David's, being someone on the ground in Egypt I would like to share some factoids for a clearer picture...

With almost 11bn USD in Foreign Direct Investment give or take annually, I really dont think it would be quite accurate to attribute Egypt's current state of affairs to its economic literature ( or in this case - lack thereof). Although the Library of Alexandria is one of Egypts most boasted accomplishments of recent times, it was one motivated by nostalgia to the identically named ancient wonder of the world, Hence the not so innacurate impression of it as a monument is quite an agreeable one. One admits that such an institution would strive on becoming something of proper standing ( far off from the library of congress of course). With widespread corruption, cronyism and other political and institutional maladies ranging from uncertain political leadership in a political system alien to the concept of alteration of power, excessive red tape and a 50 year old puppet legislative branch i think we are alot more preoccupied with more pressing matters other than adequate library stocking.

But just in case you were interested, Egypt can be considered a booming developing free market economy, not only because of reforms in the investment infrastructure and annual growth in FDI, however it has managed to also export some private sector FDI of its own regionally. Names like Orascom, Sewedy Cables, Oriental Weavers have significant regional - if not international - presence.

bottom line, you just cant sum up a country from a mere visit to a library.

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