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A Very Silly Writing Rule for Anyone Writing a Book on Economics

Warning: This is going to sound like a very silly Writing Rule when it’s so absolutely obvious. But, unfortunately, absolutely obvious isn’t always absolutely obvious for everyone.

No doubt, you’re not one of those oblivious individuals. When you set out to write an economics book, you set out to write an economics book. Pure and complicated.

Which means you don’t have to read this. But for anyone who isn’t entirely sure of what he’s doing, then take the following as seriously as possible.

Writing an economics book isn’t a casual endeavor.

If you’re so much as thinking about writing an economics book, you’re probably an amateur or professional economist. And you’d better be.

While there’s no actual rule about who can and can’t write an economics book, as mentioned in this week’s Writing Challenge, this subject is nuanced as anything. So if you don’t want to make an intense idiot out of yourself, don’t start writing an economics book until you can label yourself some kind of an economist.

For the record, this isn’t meant to scare off anyone who doesn’t have a doctorate degree. If you want to write an economics book, then write an economics book. Academic qualifications are overrated anyway.

No, really.

Hate to say this, but being a professional editor, I’ve been in contact with people holding advanced degrees who were intellectually illiterate. And even if I wasn’t a professional editor, I would still be reading published books by authors who should know better yet nonetheless don’t.

It’s sad but true. Take this Pulitzer Prize-winning author as an example (even if he isn’t an economist).

What if your Wikipedia page pretty much started out like this:

A former Executive Editor and Executive Vice President at Random House, he is a contributing writer to The New York Times Book Review, a contributing editor to Time magazine, and a former Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek. He is the author of several books. He won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. He is currently the Rogers Chair for the study of the Presidency and a distinguished visiting professor in the Department of Political Science at Vanderbilt University.

Would you feel pretty good about yourself if that described you? Would you believe you had the right to write books and promote yourself as an expert because of that long list of accomplishments?

If you would, your misconception would be understandable. But it would still be a misconception.

Despite calling himself a historian, Jon Meacham made multiple rookie mistakes in his American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation. Enough that I will never read another of his books again.

Here are the two I can still recall, though it’s been a bit since I read the book:

  • He thought that Queen Elizabeth’s reign was so superior to Queen Mary’s... though real history records Elizabeth committing her own close-minded atrocities against the Catholics.

  • He thought that Thomas Jefferson had definitively fathered children by his slave woman, Sally Hemings... though real history has no way of proving any such thing since Jefferson left no male lineage and that’s what an official determination requires.

I’m an amateur historian with nothing more than a minor in the subject academically speaking. Yet, amateur or not, I apparently know a lot more than the professional in this case.

The same thing can be said about economics. There are people who write about it who have no idea what they’re talking about.

They might very well be nice people.

They might very well be well-meaning people.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not intellectually ignorant about the field they claim to be experts in.

Don’t be one of them. Put all those lacking authors out there to shame with a firm understanding of your subject matter.

If you’re academically trained in it, don’t just rely on expert opinion. Do some real research and use your own brain as well.

And if you’re self-taught, don’t just rely on your own understanding. Read up on what the academics say too, then analyze it appropriately.

The only other option is to write a book on economics – and worse yet, publish a book on economics – that some amateur economist will one day tear apart without breaking a sweat.

That’s why this week might feature a silly Writing Rule, but it’s a Writing Rule for a reason.

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