Spoilt for choice
DEVELOPMENT ECONOMICS. By Fred Nixson. Heinemann Pounds 5.25. SUCCESS IN DATA RESPONSE FOR A-LEVEL ECONOMICS. By Glenys Jones Stanley Thornes Pounds 8.99
The determination of publishers to keep producing A-level economics texts in the face of falling demand may not make financial sense - but it's good news for students and staff, says David Lines
Does it make commercial sense to break into a market which is not only filled with competitors but is itself declining in size? Most economists would not spend long searching for an answer, and it is somewhat surprising that publishers appear not to be coming to the obvious conclusion either.
The simple fact is, of course, that all textbooks have a finite life, and there's always a niche for something different. So, A-level economics texts continue to be written and published - even though the numbers studying the subject are rapidly declining. While they are unlikely to make their authors rich, they undoubtedly offer students and teachers greater choice.
Certainly these books are designed to fill niches. Essential Economics by Adrian Lyons accepts that the likely readership has a limited attention span and won't like diagrams or economics terminology.
As a result, few chapters cover more than four or five pages, and the entire text is a mere 143 pages. Of course it is easy to be snobbish about this and talk of declining standards and lack of rigour, but if economics has suffered from a perception of being "hard" and inaccessible, then this book shows that it need not be.
In complete contrast, Current Developments in Economics by Stephen Munday proves that intellectual economics is alive and kicking. From a starting point of methodology, which is generally only encountered at masters degree level, the book moves to a "brief history of economic thought" and then to sections on micro and macroeconomics. This is not a text for the fainthearted and would certainly not appeal to any student other than one entering for the more advanced special level.
For teachers there is much of value and important background to the material which they are preparing day-to-day.
The Studies in the UK Economy series has long recognised that there are gaps in the A-level economics market, which even massive texts fail to fill. Development Economics by Fred Nixson is aimed at an interesting new syllabus area which is an option topic for the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) and EDEXEL (formerly BTEC and the University of London Board).
So far development economics has not proved highly popular with teachers,perhaps because this is an area in which few of them feel confident. This is a shame because it is a topic which is likely to appeal to a wider range of students than more conventional economics and so might attract more of them back to the subject.
In their own way, each of the three books above represents a preparation for examinations, but only indirectly. As its name suggests, Success in Data Response for A-level Economics by Glenys Jones does so unashamedly. It is much more than a "crammer", however. The questions are divided into sections which become progressively more complex. Importantly, suggested answers are supplied, as well as a guide to answering data response questions generally. Underlined terms are defined alongside the text, so the book acts both as a glossary and reinforcer of knowledge. Glenys Jones proves that it is possible to approach economics in a practical, accessible fashion, while at the same time using the language of the discipline in a way which is both rigorous and enlightening.
In the final analysis, all the books proclaim their authors' enthusiasm for economics and it is clear that the writers believe the subject has important things to say about the lives of the young people who will read them. Whether the students themselves agree is, unfortunately, still somewhat open to doubt.
David Lines is lecturer in business and economics and a member of the Education, Environment and Economy Group at the University of London's Institute of Education