By Greg Ip

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The smiles have been wiped off the experts’ faces. The public’s indifference to the economy has been replaced by rapt attention and, let’s face it, a lot of fear. With such a turbulent and uneasy global economy, clear explanations of what’s going on are vital. Yet, most people find economics shrouded in jargon and dry numbers. The Little Book of Economics provides the solution. Telling the story of our economy has been my stock in trade for 20 years now. At newspapers in Canada, then at the Wall Street Journal, and now The Economist, I’ve followed markets, talked to workers, visited businesses, and got to know central bankers.

Yet an imbalance can last a long time, or may be corrected without bringing the entire economy down. In both 1984 and 1995 the Fed engineered soft landings: it slowed the economy down without tipping it into recession. Economists often miss fatal imbalances because they’re looking in the wrong place. Having vaccinated everyone against whatever killed the last business cycle, they fail to spot the virus that infects the current one. In 2007, the backlog of newly built homes for sale seemed reasonable relative to monthly sales.

Just as people often get sick faster than they get better, bear markets are more violent than bull markets and unemployment rises more quickly than it falls. The credit taps are tightened more quickly than they’re opened. The event that ends these imbalances and thus the business cycle is seldom the same. In nineteenth-century America, it was often a natural disaster, a crop failure, or a bank panic. In 1973 and 1990, it was a spike in oil prices. In 2001, technology investments crashed. In 2007, house values plummeted.

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AARP the Little Book of Economics. How the Economy Works in by Greg Ip
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