If You're Looking To Learn Basic Economics, Here's A Free Textbook

from the cool dept

Against Monopoly points us to an LA Times story about an economics professor from Caltech, R. Preston McAfee, who has written what he calls an "open source" economics textbook. You can download the textbook for free, and can even modify it (he offers up both a pdf version and a "source code" Word doc). It's not quite "open source" in that you're not allowed to do anything commercial with it, but it's certainly a lot cheaper than a standard econ textbook. We get plenty of questions here about where one should start learning about economics knowledge -- and while a textbook without a teacher isn't always the best place, if you did want to dig into a text, this is obviously a good place to start.

I haven't gone through the whole thing, but a quick spot check on various topics suggests that (at least in that random sample) the text is clear, well-written and does a good job explaining those concepts. And while it doesn't get into anything beyond your basic intro econ, the guy does seem to recognize the basic economics of information. As he notes in the LA Times article:
"What makes us rich as a society is what we know and what we can do. Anything that stands in the way of the dissemination of knowledge is a real problem."
And, in the opening itself certainly suggests he understands the whole scarce/infinite goods dichotomy:
Economics studies the allocation of scarce resources among people – examining what goods and services wind up in the hands of which people. Why scarce resources? Absent scarcity, there is no significant allocation issue.
Indeed. And, it's nice to see scarcity becoming absent from a good econ text as well, so "allocate" away.
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Filed Under: economics, free, open source, preston mcafee, text book


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  1. identicon
    Kelvin L. Seifert, 24 Aug 2008 @ 5:59am

    Lost-cost or free alternatives to high-cost textbooks

    There are actually quite a few places on the Internet to find free or very low-cost textbooks, and on many subjects besides economics. A nice list is at http://globaltext.terry.uga.edu/node/16 , but I'm sure that other sources exist as well, as other comments here have indicated. They vary in purpose and quality, just as with paper-printed texts. The variations are less annoying that with printed texts, though, because 1) the cost is so low to begin with, and 2) in many cases (especially with wiki-based texts), books can be edited or revised to suit your local purposes.

    A big problem is to devise new ways of supporting the creation and use of free textbooks, both with money and with appropriate recognition for authors' work. Right now, to a large extent authors must have independent means of support--either draw a salary from some kind of "day job" or else be paid in the form of university credit for the work (as are students). I suspect these problems can be solved, but it will take some cogitating and experimenting.

    --Kelvin Seifert

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