"Magrathea is a myth, a fairy story, it's what parents tell their kids about at night if they want them to grow up to be economists, it's..." Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
What books should you give your children (nieces, nephews, friends) if you want them to grow up to become economists?
Harry Potter's magical universe is a Thatcherite's nightmare with its protectionist restrictions against magic carpet imports and bloated public sector. With a tri-metalic (gold/silver/bronze) currency and no paper money, effective monetary policy is impossible. The economic fundamentals of the wizarding world are basically unsound.
What about some of the classic children's literature? The entire Chronicles of Narnia is a paean to autarky. Devotees know that other countries lie north and south of Narnia, but their inhabitants are (mostly) evil and untrustworthy, and any contact, including trade, is generally avoided. The Lord of the Rings? The Battle for the Shire is a Luddite uprising, a fight against economic development and greater integration of the Shire with the rest of Middle Earth.
The recent series The Hunger Games does feature entrepreneurial heroes, including one who provides for her family by buying a goat and marketing goat's milk products. However even here the lack of respect for property rights - the celebration of poaching, for example - is to be deplored.
The Wizard of Oz might be a good choice, especially if supplemented by additional readings on the underlying monetary allegory. But unfortunately Baum seems to have been more concerned with the politics of bimetalism than the economics.
In general, it is hard to point to books for budding economists. Perhaps the difficulty stems from the nature of the economics discpline. Innovation and discovery makes for good stories. Mainstream economists take production functions as given, and leave the study of entrepreneurship to their business school colleagues. Personal relationships add drama to any tale. Yet the paradigmatic perfectly competitive market is a place where all agents are price-takers and all goods are homogeneous - power, personality and politics don't matter.
This is unfortunate because, as Deirdre McCloskey has argued, an economy needs ethical soil in which to grow. What she calls the "bourgois virtues" of hope, faith and love, of justice, courage, temperance and prudence, are the basis for flourishing capitalism.
McCloskey's thesis is good news for lovers of children's literature, since there are dozens of children's books that celebrate McCloskey's bourgois virtues: the power of love drives the plot of A Wrinkle in Time; The Golden Compass is a study of courage; Thomas the Tank Engine praises prudence. Harry Potter defeats Voldemort because he has love and courage, things that Voldemort, in his quest for immortality, has forgotten. But are these books for econonomists, or for emergent capitalists?
I don't have time to write more, so please add your suggestions and thoughts in the comments.
Thanks to Nick for suggesting the McCloskey angle.