A List of the Top 50 Economic Theories

Last year, the Ivy Press asked me to help them with a popular book about the 50 most important economic theories. My primary task was assembling the top 50 list (assisted by suggestions from my readers); Ivy then found authors to write pithy essays about them.

The resulting book was published as 30-Second Economics: The 50 Most Thought-Provoking Economic Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute. You can buy it for $5.99 over at Barnes & Noble, where it’s inexplicably attributed to someone named Emma Long (I have no financial stake in it).

Inevitably some good theories fell by the wayside, often for reasons unrelated to their importance. And the line between theory and concept got blurry at times. So please take the list in the spirit of fun mixed with seriousness.

And keep in mind, as I say in the introduction to the book, that

Important [economic] theories are not always right. So mixed among the most important theories you will find a few that are … wrong, despite their influence. See if you can find them.

Or maybe more than a few …

Here’s the list of the 50 economic theories that made the cut:

Schools of Thought

  • Classical
  • Marxism
  • Keynesian (positive)
  • Neoclassical synthesis
  • Austrian School

Economic Systems

  • Free market capitalism
  • Market socialism
  • Central planning
  • Mercantilism
  • Shock therapy
  • Washington consensus

Economic Cycles

  • Keynesian (normative)
  • Monetarism
  • The Phillips curve
  • Permanent income hypothesis
  • Rational expectations
  • Time consistency
  • Financial accelerator
  • Financial instability hypothesis
  • Lender of last resort


  • Neoclassical growth
  • New growth theory
  • Creative destruction
  • Human capital
  • The rule of law
  • Limits to growth

Global Trade

  • Comparative advantage
  • Heckscher-Ohlin trade model
  • New trade theory
  • Optimal currency area
  • The impossible trinity
  • Purchasing power parity


  • Rational choice
  • Game theory
  • Public choice
  • Expected utility theory
  • Prospect theory

Tax & Spend Policies

  • Tax incidence
  • Excess burden
  • Supply-side economics
  • Crowding out


  • The invisible hand
  • Marginalism
  • The tragedy of the commons
  • Property rights
  • Polluter pays principle
  • Adverse selection
  • Moral hazard
  • Efficient market hypothesis
  • Rent seeking

12 thoughts on “A List of the Top 50 Economic Theories”

  1. The economics section in my Barnes and Noble has been a bit short but if they are publishing this, looks like it might get a bit larger. Good deal.

  2. Which topic of these 50, does the work of the Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev fall under?

    Certainly the Kondratiev wave explains a lot about our current malaise and lingering recession/depression, and should be studied and understood and perhaps (gasp!) actually planned for by our central planners at the Federal Reserve.

    Any book on major economic ideas must contain an explanation of the concept of a “central bank” and who controls and benefits from it, as well as who is economically oppressed and controlled by it, which topic of these 50 would you recommend, for someone nuanced in politics to read for a better understanding of the constant manipulation of our economic markets?

    1. The Austrian school explains the role the central bank plays in the economy. The Mises institute has lots of PDF books and video lectures that are well worth a look at.

  3. Thanks for posting this! One of my friends here in Ghana was just asking me what she could read to get really quick overviews of the main tenants of economics. This will be joining chocolate and Parmesan cheese in the next batch of items I will import from the U.S.

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  5. Has anyone answered Jan Quatam’s question re “central banks”?

    1. The Austrian school deals with the role of centralized banks in the economy. Authors such as Murray N. Rothbard & Henry Hazlitt have written several books about the role central banks play in world economics. http://mises.org/ this website has several books and lectures worth looking into.

  6. was aked to search for theories of economics by my lecturer..found it here but it was only stated…not defined.

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