Economics 101 for Writers

I’ve blogged before about things that turn me off in novels, but I ran across a new one last week while reading the latest book from a very popular romance author. In this book, the heroine finds herself without funds and tries to skip out on her hotel bill. She’s forced to choose between working off her debt as a hotel maid or going to jail. Not a tough choice, really. And the hotel seems to have trouble staffing their housekeeping department. 

Except, the author makes a point of mentioning that lots of people in this town are unemployed. 

Do you see the disconnect here? The failed logic?

Free to Choose: A Personal StatementNow I’m a self-admitted economics junkie. I’m thrilled to find clips of Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell and Dambisa Moyo on youtube. I think it’s tragic that most people are economically illiterate because nothing—absolutely NOTHING—effects every aspect of your life like economics does. For me, it’s a no brainer that, in a town with high unemployment, there would be people lined up for any job they could get.  Instead, the hotel owner hires illegals and deadbeats (to whom she pays more than minimum wage) rather than employing her neighbors who need a pay check.
And no one in town resents this.

It’s completely illogical.

Is it enough to ruin the novel? It wouldn’t be if I liked the characters more. Or if I’d liked the author’s last book (I didn’t.) But even if I liked the characters, this would nag at me. My trust in the author is shaken.

Authors are amateur psychologists. They have to understand what motivates people. They have to take that knowledge and craft viable backgrounds and thought processes for their characters that feel real. Since economics is really about the decisions people make in given circumstances, an understanding of economics should be a logical outgrowth for an author. If you understand the basics (and youtube can give you a first-rate crash course), you won't embarrass yourself when you write your character's environment. As an added bonus, you'll be taken in less often by your government's B.S.

Any other economics junkies out there? 


  1. I'm fascinated by economics, the choices people make, the impact it has on every aspect of our lives. I wish I had the math background to delve into it more.

  2. Hi Cara,

    You really don't have to be a math wiz at all unless you want to actually work in the field, and I'm not sure if you need that much math even then. If you're really interested, I recommend Nobel prized winner Milton Friedman's book, Free To Choose. He's very accessible in his explanations.

  3. Interesting thought, Suzie. Those are the sorts of things that are easy to get wrong if you don't think all the way through the ramifications of how you've set up your story. Good thing to keep in mind.

  4. The economic dilemma - unlimited wants, scarce resources. Yes, it's totally logic that in this situation, the resources aren't scarce at all!

    Economic junkie here too - did O & A levels and specialised in Economic science for my degree. :)

    And true, besides some basic tenets, economics is not really about maths but more about logic and common sense.

  5. Very well said, and something to keep in mind!