*The Time Travelling Economist*

The author is Charlie Robertson, and the subtitle is Why Education, Electricity and Fertility are Key to Escaping Poverty.

How come no one told me about this book before?  Published in 2022 (in Switzerland), it is one of the best popular economics books of the last decade, and one of the best books on economic development period.  People should talk about it more!  And to be sure, that description “popular” is misleading.  Like other good books in this genre, it is deeper and better than merely being “popular,” even if it does not itself present original research of the kind you might find in a journal.

Anyway, the core argument is reflected well in the subtitle, and here is one excerpt:

Electricity is an integral part of the investment story that all countries require to escape poverty and eventually progress to become rich.  The commonly cited metric is that investment needs to be 25% of GDP and those that beat this, grow fast.  In this chapter, we use electricity as a proxy for that investment target.

There are good insights throughout, for instance:

Many have high hopes for solar power in Nigeria, but one problem is keeping them secure.  Solar panels might be at risk of theft to replace the expensive diesel generator that so many households have to rely on.

The author has considerable real world experience through his Global Chief Economist position at Renaissance Capital.  Here is another good bit:

When fertility rates fall, country’s banking systems will get larger.


A debt crisis is probably unavoidable in a bid to create jobs.

The author is bullish on Pakistan, North Africa, Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda.  For better or worse, some of those picks reflect the fact that “politics” does not feature directly in his key jumping-off points for growth.  We will see.

There are various objections you can levy at this book, ranging from “lack of a fully specified model” (who has that anyway?) to “those factors are themselves endogenous to [fill in the blank].”  I’ll just say that I have seen many a worse economic development book, and this one is not ideologically charged either.

You can order it here.


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