Farmboy-turned-economist Scott Irwin uses entertaining stories from his life to introduce basic concepts of commodities futures in Back to the Futures.
Irwin grew up on a farm in Iowa, and that experience gave him firsthand knowledge about the practical aspects of commodities futures. Although futures are often dismissed as the stuff of speculators, Irwin explains how buying and selling futures contracts can allow farmers and others to “hedge their bets,” in effect “buying insurance” and locking in a price for their product, whether it be corn, oil, silver, cattle, sugar, or other goods.
Irwin’s approach to his subject is oblique, charming, and effective. Unlike a typical finance author, he shares stories of risky behavior and near-death experiences from his younger days, using each as a launching pad for another lesson about commodities futures. That format, which might seem to risk being clunky or contrived, instead flows smoothly and offers suspense, humor, and real-world action—even including examples from popular movies to illuminate the workings of the futures market—to balance out the intellectual side of the book.
The prose is delivered in a strong, knowledgeable, yet humble voice that paints a vivid picture of young Irwin’s town, friends, and neighbors. In one example, stories about a friend’s reckless snowmobile and auto driving provide a transition to a section explaining futures market speculation: “Jack’s daredevil attitude in these misadventures is a fitting representation of the spirit of a speculator.”
Irwin has a gift for clear, simple examples, as when he explains “cornering the market” through the popular card game of Hearts. He also focuses on his own career and academic work, much of which defends the open market and speculators from government intrusion and restrictions. Two sections of photos display Irwin’s Iowan roots and business moments.
In all, Back to the Futures is a unique, fun, and educational guide to understanding commodities futures.
Also available in paperback and ebook.