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AQA A-Level Economics – NEED to KNOW, Key facts at your fingertips, David Horner and Steve Stoddard, Hodder Education, 2018, £8.99, ISBN 978-1510428492

At first glance, this looks pretty much like any other revision book, apart from the cover being bright purple rather than black. However, on closer inspection, it is…different, intended to be a combination of a companion throughout the course and a revision aid towards the end. In essence, it probably falls somewhere between the two.

The book has two sections, one for micro, one for macro. Each section is consistently colour-coded with exam tips, key terms and synoptic links. The information contained within each section and arranged under sub-headings is concise. While the succinct approach is broadly welcomed and in some instances provides an appropriate explanation to aid understanding, on too many occasions the reader, or perhaps better described as the ‘user’, is left with the frustrating question in their mind as to ‘why?’. Now, one could argue that the user should be able to refer to their class notes or to a textbook; but, ‘why?’ is often the question to which the user is trying to find an answer. As such, therefore, the book tends to be of less use than it could be both as a companion and as a revision aid.

I like the diagrams. They are clear and use different colours for different lines and curves, so are easier to work out and see what’s happening. I like the colour coding and the clarity of the key terms throughout.

However, the sub-sections of micro and macro all merge together as if written in continuous prose. As a result, the book lacks user-friendliness. I understand the need to reduce page numbers but, when this detracts from the purpose of the book it is counter-productive. There are also noticeable inconsistencies throughout the book. For example, there are as many exam tips within the first 33 of the 68 pages of the micro section as there are in the whole of the 51 pages of the macro section. The synoptic links lack some clarity. For example, the user is referred to a later section enabling the features of perfect competition to be gleaned; but the 13 pages of that later section have to be scoured to find any mention of such features. This lack of guidance precision compounds the lack of user-friendliness.

Some may like the book. As its title says, it does tell you what you need to know and the key facts. I would humbly suggest, however, that those key facts are not at the user’s fingertips. At a retail price of £8.99 this one’s not for me, I’m afraid.

John Tuxford teaches at Denstone College, Uttoxeter, Staffordshire.

Business Revision

AQA A-Level Business, Key facts at your fingertips, Need to Know series; Neil James,
Hodder Education, 2016, £16.99, ISBN 9781471842160.

This is a revision book which follows the sequence of the AQA Business specification closely across the two-year course.  Each section begins with an outline of what students need to know and key terms are highlighted throughout.  Exam tips are provided and it is clear that many of these have come from the author’s experience as a teacher and senior examiner.  The end of each chapter contains a few useful questions although marks have not been allocated to these; this will frustrate some.  There is no attempt to provide guidance with regard to answering essays and tackling case studies; this book simply outlines key areas of the course.

The danger of a book which attempts to cover a two-year course in little over 100 pages is that each section of it ends up raising more questions than it provides answers to.  I would like to see a little more development and explanation alongside various topics such as elasticity.  Concepts and models therefore tend to be covered in a rather descriptive way such as the section on the Blake Mouton leadership grid.  Another example sets out a decision tree with no explanation as to how the calculations were derived.

The question of who to pitch this revision book at is an interesting one.  It may be instinctive to feel that a colourful, well laid out book which provides the very basics of each section of the course would ideally suit those students struggling with the course.  I believe that the opposite may be the case.  It may be that the best use for this book is where a student who already has a reasonable command of the topic areas, utilises the space provided on each page to develop the various content items, for example, by exploring the advantages and drawbacks of the different leadership styles shown in the Blake Mouton grid.

Craig Brown is Head of Economics and Business at St Lawrence College, Ramsgate, Kent.

Economics today

Doughnut Economics, Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist, Kate Raworth,
Random House Business, 2018, 384 pages, £6.49 from Amazon, paperback, ISBN 978-1847941398

In her book, Raworth proposes a radical new vision for 21st Century economics depicted by the doughnut model. In essence, the theory represents an economic future in which the needs of all members of society can be satisfied without the destruction of the living world on which these needs depend. Indeed, the author refers to it herself as ‘a 21st century compass for guiding humanity’. Raworth’s vision is a culmination of her extensive experience as an economist as well as over two decades work with the United Nations and the Overseas Development Institute.

The book begins by trying to understand exactly what economics is and the nature of authority it commands in society. Raworth explores some of the historical perspectives that have shaped our understanding of the economy and highlights the importance of economic perspectives on the world. She calls for a fresh approach to rethinking economics that is fit for the 21st century rather than an economic mindset grounded in 1950’s textbooks.

Raworth cleverly encourages the reader to question and challenge long held economic assumptions and beliefs, something she refers to as ‘economic graffiti’. Her style of writing is engaging and persuasive and the anticipation and excitement of a potentially new era in economic thinking builds as the book progresses. Raworth’s work will undoubtedly be regarded as a pivotal turning point in this era in years to come.

Raworth’s model of 21st century economics is depicted in the shape of a doughnut which signifies her appreciation of the power of pictures to aid human cognition. The inner circle of the doughnut depicts the social foundation, which Raworth refers to as the ‘basics of life’, such as water, food and education, which no one should be denied.

The outer circle, the ecological ceiling, is the boundary beyond which environmental degradation of the earth’s system occurs, such as climate change, ocean acidification and ozone layer depletion.

Between the two boundaries, lies the doughnut, ‘a sweet spot’ that is an ecologically safe and socially just space for humanity. Thus, from her viewpoint, the purpose of economics should be concerned with helping us to enter and remain in that ‘just space’.

In the subsequent chapters, Raworth proposes seven ways to think like a 21st century economist. In brief these include:

  1. Change the Goal – Raworth advocates changing the pursuit of GDP (one that she refers to as a ‘cuckoo in the economic nest) as an indicator of growth to one that focuses on human prosperity.
  2. See the Big Picture – here the focus is on redefining the self-contained market economy towards an embedded economy – one which encapsulates the economy within society and the living world and recognises the core role of the household, the market, the state and the creative commons in meeting people’s needs and wants.
  3. Nurture Human Nature – the third proposal – suggests rethinking the idea of the rational economic man at the heart of mainstream economics to a new 21st century portrait of a socially reciprocating society. Raworth regards humanity’s emerging portrait as being more interdependent, having fluid values, moving from calculating to approximating behaviour and being dependent rather than dominant on the earth’s resources.
  4. Get Savvy with Systems – Raworth writes that today’s economy is ‘divisive and degenerative’ by default and the challenge for 21st century economics is to be ‘distributive and regenerative’ by design.
  5. Design to Distribute – Here Raworth discusses the need for distributive flow in all economic interactions. She explores how the focus should not only be on the redistribution of income but also wealth, enterprise, technology and enterprise.
  6. Create to Regenerate – Chapter six explores the potential of the curricular economy and the need for a regenerative approach to development. Raworth addresses the implications of ignoring the significance of the earth’s natural resources and ecological destruction. Indeed, if economic activity is regenerative by design, then ultimately, we will be able to get closer to the doughnuts ‘safe and just’ space.
  7. Be Agnostic About Growth – the final proposal warns about the dangers of growth at all costs and invites us to become ‘agnostic about growth’. Raworth suggests that our primary concern should be about ‘creating economies that enable us to thrive’ regardless of whether they are growing or not.

Doughnut economics proposes an exciting new approach to 21st century economics and has been heralded as ‘revolutionary and inspiring’ by many. I believe this is a must-read book not only for policy makers, economists, teachers and students but for anyone with an interest in shaping our future economy.  Admittedly, this could lead to many interesting discussions in the classroom and would be an ideal recommendation in libraries and reading lists in educational institutions.

Jo Bentham, PhD, is Chair of the EBEA and teaches at Adams’ Grammar School, Newport, Shropshire.