Linda Yueh is an economist who holds senior academic positions at Oxford University, London Business School, and the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is also a broadcaster and was an anchor/correspondent at the BBC and Bloomberg TV. Her book, What Would the Great Economists Do?: How Twelve Brilliant Minds Would Solve Today’s Biggest Problems, is a timely exploration of the life and work of world-changing thinkers—from Adam Smith to John Maynard Keynes—and how their ideas would solve the great economic problems we face today.
What Would the Great Economists Do? is an official Next Big Idea Club Summer Finalist. We asked Linda to delve into the big ideas behind her recent work, the surprising things she learned during her writing process, and how she hopes people will think about the economy differently as a result.
In two sentences or less, can you sum up the “big idea” of your book?
There are solutions to our biggest economic challenges, so long as we draw on the ideas of the greatest economic thinkers in history who have already changed their world – and use their insights to help improve ours.
What surprised you the most in your research?
My book includes biographies, as I write about the colorful lives of the great economists, including the affairs, spats, etc., before delving into their ideas. I was surprised by how hard they were on themselves. This includes the brilliant father of economics Adam Smith who ordered his work to be destroyed after his death because he didn’t believe it to be worthy.
Did an event from your personal life inspire or affect the book?
When I was broadcasting for the BBC and Bloomberg, I was privileged to travel around America and the world and got to speak to a range of people who inspired me to look for solutions to our economic challenges. I share their stories in the book.
What would you like readers to take away from your book?
Ideas can change the world. Getting to know the lives and times of the great economists can help situate those ideas, and how those insights can help us today. For instance, each chapter of the book answers a specific question, such as why are wages so low, by identifying the great economist whose thinking can help us answer the question. Each chapter is a digestible overview of the evidence around the issue and what the solutions are to these current problems.
Do you have a favorite quote or motto that guides your life?
I always bear in mind that writing about economics should be accessible, so I constantly remind myself of former U.S. Congressman Dick Armey’s comment. He said: Economics is the science of telling you things you’ve known your whole life, but in a language that you can’t understand.
What is one book that you wish everyone in the world would read?
Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations—the seminal work published in 1776 by one of the great economists that I write about, that still underpins how we think about the economy today, including why the “invisible hand” of the market is a better way for the economy to operate than by government dictate.
What was your most humbling moment?
Talking to people living in a slum in Mumbai and realizing that there was still so much more to do to improve how economies work.
What trivial trick, talent, or feat can you do to impress people?
I’ve been fortunate to have travelled to some 70 countries and can talk about some exotic places!
What’s something that is really easy for most people that you find really challenging?
I find it challenging to bake a tasty banana bread!