Notes from reading 'How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes'

How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes uses illustration, humor, and accessible storytelling to explain complex topics of economic growth and monetary systems.


How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes incorporates the spirit of the original while tackling the latest economic issues. With wit and humor, the Schiffs explain the roots of economic growth, the uses of capital, the destructive nature of consumer credit, the source of inflation, the importance of trade, savings, and risk, and many other topical principles of economics.


Here is a summary from Devin Cooper’s customer review:

Understanding how can economy crashes from the Austrian point of view can be very complicated. You have to know capital theory, what interest rates are, how resources are coordinated, etc. Many people do not have the time to learn all of this.

Peter Schiff’s book tries to take these complicated theories and teaches his readers through a short story about the progression of a small island economy. Peter’s book is an updated version of his father’s book How an Economy Grows and Why It Doesn’t by adding recent events and characters to the story.

The book introduces us to a little bit of history of the science of economics in the last hundred years. Peter talks about the early Austrians and the rise of Keynesianism in the 1930s as a counter to the Great Depression. Keynesianism became the dominant paradigm and has plagued economics and the world since.

Once Upon a Time

The story starts with three islanders – Able, Baker, and Charlie. They were in dire poverty. The only resource they can gather is fish, and only one per day since they are using their bare hands (just enough to survive in this story). Since they consumed everything they caught, there were no savings in case something bad had happened.

But they wanted more for their lives than spending the entire day catching one fish. Able came up with an idea to create a fish catcher, but in order to create this device, he must sacrifice a day and become on the verge of starvation to try and produce this net since there are no savings. When he created this net, his productivity doubled as he is now able to catch two fish per day.

Throughout the book, Peter slips in economic ideas by explaining what the islanders are doing and sums up these ideas at the end of each chapter. For example, when Able created the net, he had to sacrifice eating a fish for a day, which meant he underconsumed, in order to create a net, or a capital good.

As the story progresses, as there are now savings thanks to Able’s invention of the net, economic expansion accelerates. Able is able to do more than just fish because he now has a net. As they continue to save and create capital goods, their lives become better.

The story continues with the explanation of other economic theories, such as the interest rate and what they do, why banks are created, how trade expands, the division of labor, and finally, how governments inflate the currency and drive interest rates lower to create an economic boom with an inevitable crash.


The story ends and Peter shifts to the modern day, as he explains how the bursting of the dot-com bubble and George Bush and Alan Greenspan’s heavy intervention into the market has fueled the bubble for the housing bubble and created the crash. He continues to describe how the government, instead of learning from the lessons of the past, keeps trying the same thing that caused the last crisis. When Obama came to office, he did the same thing Bush did, which was to stimulate the economy in order to make it look good for re-election. So if you really want to understand the cause of recessions in an easy and fun manner, Peter Schiff’s book will tell you a good story.


As a layman in economics, I have gained some rough understanding of the principles of economics by reading this fable-like book, and I will also start to learn about economics.