Harvard professor N. Gregory Mankiw is one of the most influential economists in the United States. But the 61-year-old’s authority does not stem from advancing an arcane scholarly finding. Nor has Mankiw coined some catchy phrase that captured the popular imagination (see, for example, “The Affluent Society” by John Kenneth Galbraith). Instead, Mankiw’s power derives from his position as the author of one of the most widely used introductory college economics textbooks.
Chances are that if you decided to study college economics today, you’d start with Mankiw’s “Principles of Economics.” He has been writing and revising it for more than two decades. It’s now in its eighth edition, and the ninth is expected in about six months. Mankiw estimates that there are roughly 4 million copies of the book circulating in the world, with about 2 million in the United States. He figures that his book has from 20 to 25 percent of the market for starter economics books.
It’s a great time to be writing these texts, because the economy is in constant flux, and there is an undeniable hunger to understand how it works. Economists Samuel Bowles and Wendy Carlin, who have created an introductory e-book, estimate that about 40 percent of college students take at least one economics course. A long essay on introductory economics by Bowles and Carlin is to appear in the Journal of Economic Literature along with a similar overview by Mankiw.