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Throughout history changes in the human condition have stimulated debate about how to best answer society's basic economic questions of what, how, and for whom to produce. Over the past two and a half centuries the economic debate matured. Professional economists formed and tested theories in the laboratory of everyday life. Some theories reinforced the status quo, while others fomented revolution. All attempted to explain or influence the economic behaviors of people.

Today the study of economics is highly scientific. Yet even with centuries of accumulated knowledge and the use of computer modeling techniques, economists are unable to untangle some of our most vexing economic mysteries. During the 1990s, for example, the U.S. economy reveled in its seeming conquest of inflation and unemployment. Optimism reigned as the confident nation experienced a decade of economic growth and prosperity. A modest economic downturn in the early 2000s dampened this confidence some. Truly humbling were the more recent financial crises and the Great Recession (2007–2009), which reminded us that there were still lessons to learn.

Changes in economic conditions tend to jostle people's worldview and serve as a springboard to new economic thinking, reforms, even revolution. The Great Depression of the 1930s, for instance, changed many Americans' view about limited government. In the blink of an eye, at least in the grand scheme of economic history, the time-honored laissez-faire doctrine was swept under the rug in favor of a more interventionist role for government—a role that made growth in national output, full employment, and price stability government responsibilities. And words penned by economists, such as John Maynard Keynes, were at the epicenter of this transition.

Deciphering Economics, as the book title implies, acknowledges that the study of economics is part art and part science. It seems the professional economists are still “deciphering”! It is true that the basic principles of economics are derived from thoughtful and ongoing experimentation and research. Yet the study of economics is grounded in the real world, a world that refuses to stand still and, at times, defies predictability. Changing conditions make the study of economics dynamic, fraught with wrangling, debate, even derision. These debates are far more than stuffy academic exercises, however. Instead, they influence local, national, and global policies and actions—and thus affect our own quality of life and the economic landscape of the planet. Deciphering Economics hopes to increase your knowledge base and comfort level in economics—and your willingness to join the conversation!


The author recognizes the following individuals for their contribution to this reference book: Raquel Reichard, freelance graphics specialist, for the production of the book's charts, graphs, and diagrams; Armand Saccomanno, teacher, for his assistance in the production of the book's tables; Brian Romer, acquisitions editor, for his assistance in drafting the original book proposal; Erin Ryan, preproduction and media editor, for her assistance with photograph and primary documents permissions; the core of teachers and academic, public, and corporate librarians who reviewed the initial book proposal; Nicole Azze, Production Coordinator; Suba Ramya Nambiaruran, Project Manager; Caroline Price, Media Resource Analyst; and Hilary D. Claggett, senior editor for business, economics and finance, for her patient guidance throughout the project.

The author recognizes the following professional organizations for their work on behalf of economic education in the United States. These include the National Council on Economic Education (NCEE) and the Foundation for Teaching Economics (FTE). Over the years their innovative programs for teachers and students and their instructional materials have advanced the cause of economic literacy at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Appreciation is also extended to the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) for its continued support for economic education in the nation's schools.

The author recognizes the following government agencies and multilateral organizations for their efforts to collect, analyze, and report on the state of the U.S. and global economy. Significant contributions to this reference book were made by U.S. government agencies such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Economic Analysis, International Trade Administration, Office of Management and Budget, Federal Reserve System, and U.S. Census Bureau. Similarly, special appreciation is extended to multilateral organizations for sharing global economic data and insights with the people of the world. Included are the International Labor Organization, International Monetary Fund, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, United Nations Development Program, World Bank Group, and the World Trade Organization.

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