January Book Club Recap – The Cambist and Lord Iron
Last night, the Show-Me Institute hosted our first book club meeting of the new year. The reading we discussed was a short story by Daniel Abraham called “The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics.” The story is available free online and conveys some important economics lessons that are not often covered in fiction, such as the idea that valuation is determined by exchange, and that trade creates wealth. It is a short and fun read, and because of our recent changes in book club, I wanted to pick something that had both of those qualities for our first meeting.
Our discussion started with introductions around the table. Among our 10 attendees, some have been attending book club regularly for years, some have come in the past and had not attended in a while, and one person had never attended. Former Show-Me Institute intern Mary Chism gave a synopsis of the story for the few people who had not read it. Next, I gave a brief summary of the history of intellectuals’ views on the concept of value, from Aristotle’s “value for use”/”value for exchange” dichotomy, to the Labor Theory of Value, to the modern marginalist conception of value, attributable to Alfred Marshall.
We then started addressing the discussion questions I had prepared in advance (with Mary’s help). Leading from those questions, here are some of the topics we discussed:
- Whether anything can be exchanged for anything else
- The how and why of international currency exchange
- Government policy relating to the supply of money and exchange rates
- Whether sweatshop laborers, especially children, are making a free choice to work where they do
- The opportunity cost of reckless behavior
- Risk aversion and diminishing marginal utility of income
- A question from one attendee: “When a participant in a market has more resources, how does that affect that party’s ability to make beneficial exchanges?”
Some topics were discussed on an introductory level and others on a very high level. Many questions were asked and much knowledge shared. In addition to the lively discussion of economics and such, we talked about what our next reading selection should be and when we should meet again. The respective decisions were Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” and Wed., Feb. 20. If you are interested in the book or related topics, stop by our office at 7 p.m. on that evening for pizza, soda, and interesting discussion. See ya there!