Ask the grumpies: econ book recommendations for a gifted 9 year old

Monica asks:

Can you recommend a good intro book? I’m thinking about The Cartoon Introduction to Economics; the kid in question has a high level of comprehension and adores the graphic novel format.

We meander into lots of random conversations that touch on economics–I’m not the one who starts them! I don’t have a solid handle on the subject myself, so would most likely read the book too.  So far we’ve discussed supply and demand, inflation, opportunity cost, auctions, externalities…

The kid is almost 9 but a bit of an outlier. Middle school reading level is probably the sweet spot, I’m guessing…ze reads Smithsonian but not the New Yorker? I’m not so great at describing the level. Not up to algebra yet but probably will be in another year.

I have to admit that this question stumped me, and also any of my colleagues whom I’ve asked since getting it.  We’ve never really thought about econ and kids.  That’s not to say that people don’t– I know children of famous economists whose parents liked to do “studies” and play “games”, setting up elaborate exchanges at Christmas time involving trading unwrapped presents from Santa, for example.  Oddly, those children all became physicists.

We usually think of introducing economics sometime after algebra.  For adults I generally recommend Bob Frank’s Microeconomics and Behavior and Jon Gruber’s Public Finance and Public Policy.  These are both “reality-based” texts– Frank focuses on the difference between how people *should* act given economic theory and how they actually *do* act.  I feel like Gruber’s should be required reading because it explains that yes, there is a (limited) role for government and when and why and how and what are the consequences.  They’re both pretty good reads, IMO.

Age here is important because a lot of light economics reading tends to talk about sex.  I don’t know if we’re an over-sexed profession or we’re just not used to kids or what.  So Freakanomics (which I don’t like anyway) is definitely out.  The Worldly Philosophers, another popular read, discusses economist infidelities, such as Marx impregnating his housekeeper when his wife was sick.

Now, if you were just interested in “popular” economics like the stock market or the affordable care act, there’s probably more out there on those topics that’s safe and doesn’t require higher-level math.  My father used to have us track Exxon and we learned about things like stock splits and so on.  Jon Gruber has a comic book on the ACA that’s a good read.  But you’re actually interested in hard-core economics, and kudos for that.

So basically, our answer:  We have no idea– but that Cartoon Introduction looks pretty awesome!  Let us know how it worked out.

Do you all have any better recommendations for Monica?

19 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: econ book recommendations for a gifted 9 year old”

  1. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    If a nine year old can learn basic macro, then why can’t these f^cken shittebagges at the WSJ?

  2. plantingourpennies Says:

    Would Moneyball be too advanced for said kid? It’s not too heavy on economic theory, but the ideas are in there as guiding principles for the A’s managerial staff. If nothing else, it’s also just a very good book.

  3. Bardiac Says:

    I remember The Worldly Philosophers being GREAT in my intro to Econ class. (But I don’t remember the Marx bit, but then I was older. I wonder if that little bit of sex stuff isn’t something a nine year old can handle? I mean, heck, turn on prime time TV and there’s worse, no?)

  4. gwinne Says:

    My kid hasn’t read an econ text, but has friends with parents who are econ professors who have done some talks at school. She watches Biz Kids on PBS and loves it.

  5. C Says:

    When I was about that age (early 90s?) I was given a book that was basically econ for kids, and it may have been a graphic novel? I remember it started out explaining bartering, and it had fun illustrations for the difference between a bear and a bull market. It’s probably out of print at this point, since some basic searches with my admittedly excellent search parameters turn up nothing. All of that to say that a kid-friendly intro to economics sure has stayed with this humanities person.

  6. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Even the motherf*cken head of the goddamn motherf*cken European Central Bank doesn’t understand basic motherf*cken macro:

  7. J Says:

    There was a cartoony macro book that I recall fondly from High School– The Adventures of Primero Dinero. Sadly, it is out of print and $170 at Amazon. I just selected a standard type econ textbook for my daughter. I opted for one that mentions me in order to give me some cred. But she is 15. Would not have attempted it too much earlier.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Did you see that Glenn Ellison has an elementary school enrichment math book out? (And one for middle school too.)

      • J Says:

        Oh yes. We own both of those books. My son has done some of it. I wish he had done more.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’m excited because I’ve been looking for ages for something that does math with different bases.

        (For non-economist readers: Glenn Ellison is a game theorist/ i/o person at MIT. So a little surprising to see him with a children’s math enrichment book. But maybe not so surprising.)

  8. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Which also reminds me… I learned a lot about why fixed exchanged rates are bad and how inflation works from The Mouse on Wall Street (which is in the Mouse that Roared series from the 1960s/1970s). The world has changed a lot since then, but you occasionally get these crazy gold standard arguments from various nutcases, and it is clear why that’s a bad idea after watching what happens to the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

  9. Monica Says:

    Here’s a preliminary update…the kid devoured the book in probably two sittings–I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Ze gives it two (maybe three) thumbs up and has explained to me how supply and demand determine the market price. Now I need to read it so we can have more conversations about it… my kid officially knows more about economics than I do now. THANKS!

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