Recently, Raghuram Rajan, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and current Governor of central bank of India, while addressing undergraduate students of Economics, said:

... In this country there is a tremendous need for capable economists. I see that every day in my work. There is a need in Delhi, in Mumbai and all over the country. We have lost a generation of economists...The kind of economics we need is based on a good understanding of the fundamentals of economics, such as price theory and general equilibrium, which is the hardest concept to understand. A lot of policy-making is done without an understanding of general equilibrium which is often the key contribution that an economist can make to the dialog. The kind of economics we need is based on rigorous fundamentals – blood, sweat, tears, and toil. ...

I am a student of public policy in India, aiming to achieve a key position in public policy making. As much as his above statements make me worry at many levels, they also set a a goal for me to achieve.

In this context, given my background, what do I read to gain "that expected level" of understanding? How should my learning path look like?

EDIT: I'm asked to provide my mathematical background. I have done following undergrad math courses:

Linear Algebra
Real Analysis
Complex Analysis
Analytic Geometry
Ordinary Differential Equations
Partial Differential Equations
Linear Algebra
Vector Analysis
Linear Programming
Numerical Analysis and Computer programming
Dynamics & Statics
Mechanics and Fluid Dynamics

You can say, I can solve most of the problems from undergrad textbooks on above subjects. I dealt with statistics only at my Senior High School level.

  • $\begingroup$ "such as price theory and general equilibrium, which is the hardest concept to understand" When he says they are hardest I take for granted that it is hardest. Which resources best develop the intuition and practical application of these concepts? $\endgroup$
    – claws
    Sep 2, 2015 at 2:50
  • $\begingroup$ Do you have in mind a particular kind of policy work you are interested in? $\endgroup$
    – Ubiquitous
    Sep 2, 2015 at 6:37
  • $\begingroup$ No! I've interned in few think tanks and worked on School education, Healthcare,Environmental policies. I loved them all but I feel I need to work on as many diverse polices as possible before making up my mind. That said, Education & Healthcare will always be close to my heart. $\endgroup$
    – claws
    Sep 2, 2015 at 15:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Please provide information as regards your mathematical competency. This is crucial information, because there are excellent books on economics that nevertheless require a certain degree of familiarity with mathematical techniques, as well as mathematical description of the real world situation under examination. $\endgroup$ Sep 8, 2015 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ @AlecosPapadopoulos: I've added my math background. $\endgroup$
    – claws
    Sep 12, 2015 at 13:24

3 Answers 3


Read Hal Varian's textbook "Microeconomic Analysis". It's brief, yet a standard text in a 4th year or graduate course in advanced micro. Then grab a good book on mathematical economics that's actually well written, and includes suggestions on how to develop good mathematical intuition, not just a bunch of recipes on how to solve problems. For example, you can learn how to use determinants in matrix algebra, but how many actually know what a determinant is, both algebraically and geometrically? That's the blood, sweat, and tears bit, I think. I suggest the two volumes by Knut Sydsaeter (check Amazon)

You may also want to learn some advanced macroeconomic theory, and some spatial, urban and resource economics.

Take a good course in econometrics, and learn a programming language like Python or Julia so your are not always beholden to other people to provide you with data, which may be dirty or faulty, but you won't know it.

Watch lots of Youtube videos on economics, esp. controversial topics. Take some cool courses on Coursera or other MOOCS. They are often from some of the top universities in the world, and they are free.

OK, so now you have some basic tools; if you enjoy using them, and find that real work gets done, why not go to graduate school?

Then go practice for 20 years, and keep in mind that some aspects of economics may just be bunk anyway, so stay modest, don't get too overly seduced by beautiful models.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ ""Be a nerd for while, and watch lots of Youtube videos on economics, esp. controversial topics. Take some cool courses on Coursera.” such as? Can you kindly name some courses and YouTube keywords or videos? $\endgroup$
    – claws
    Sep 2, 2015 at 2:56
  • $\begingroup$ You are kind of asking to be spoon fed, which is exactly the wrong place to start. Why not just start searching and see what catches your fancy? What's the downside? Embrace the joy of accidental discovery. If you are not freaking out with curiosity within 10 min of browsing, say, Coursera, you may be in the wrong field. $\endgroup$
    – Hexatonic
    Sep 2, 2015 at 3:07
  • $\begingroup$ Got it! Will do that $\endgroup$
    – claws
    Sep 2, 2015 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ Good stuff. I'm very curious to see what you find. Do share. $\endgroup$
    – Hexatonic
    Sep 2, 2015 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ Your answer has lots of good points, but you have a tendency to use way to many words and statements. Shorter and more concise would make for a great answer. $\endgroup$
    – Thorst
    Sep 2, 2015 at 10:41

There are lots of very good introduction textbooks that may help you.

Gregory Mankiw - Principles of Economics

Olivier Blanchard - Macroeconomics

Especially, the first one is a great one. Simple and gives the fundamentals of economics. The second one is an intermediate textbook. Personally, I did not read it but as the author is Blanchard, I am pretty sure that it is a great book.

Daron Acemoğlu - An Introduction to Modern Economic Growth

This book is also great but not an introduction book at all but very helpful to understand the principles of growth theory which is so important in order to understand the development trajectories of countries.


You should start with

  • Microeconomics (Robert Pindyck, Daniel Rubinfeld) then move to Intermediate Microeconomics (Hal Varian) and Finally move to Microeconomic Foundations I: Choice and Competitive Markets (David Kreps).

  • Macroeconomics (Olivier Blanchard) then move to Advanced Macroeconomic (David Romer) [Don't get scared of the word "Advanced",it's not that Advanced] and to finish with Introduction to Modern Economic Growth(Daron Acemoglu)

With no doubt, you need to have a sound mathematical proficiency to deal with the books. For that, you should know up to the level of Mathematics for Economists(Simon and Blume)

Having read some Basic statistics and Econometrics will add as a bonus.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.