Monday, July 01, 2013

23 Things

I'd been fascinated by the idea of this book ever since I read the reviews in the newspapers. You may well be aware of the thought that capitalism is the worst way to organise our economic lives, apart from all the other ways. In this book Professor Chang looks at all the claims made about the way capitalism has improved the world. And whilst he doesn't drive the whole model over the cliff he does gently let down some of its tyres.

Each chapter is a different thing claimed by capitalists - he calls the chapters Thing 1, Thing 2 etc - beginning with a short paragraph called 'What they tell you', followed by a second 'What they don't tell you.' Then each chapter rehearses the arguments and comes to a guarded conclusion.

He writes well and readably for a non-economist such as me. Indeed he says, '95% of economics is common sense made complicated, and even for the remaining 5%, the essential reasoning, if not all the technical details, can be explained in plain terms.'

There is also a pleasing guide to how to read the book, suggesting a different chapter order if you are not sure what capitalism is, or if you think politics is a waste of time. There are five others.

Needless to say I enjoyed it immensely when some of the pomposity of right-wing 'market forces rule' think was being deflated. It came as a shock though to find that my devotion to charitable micro-finance may not be as completely smart as I think it is without corresponding investment in trade associations and workers co-operatives to help poorer people trade outside their own communities. All readers will be challenged.

My favourite thought: economists do not make the best people to run an economy.

I am sure it has been read and digested at government level. Chang is a Cambridge Professor. I am also sure that he will not be universally acclaimed. There are many vested interests in that car and they have spare wheels.

My own conclusion is that a lot of the controversial issues of our day would be better discussed if we agreed that systems can have some good and some bad in them and 'opposition' politics might better involve acknowledging the good as well as eliminating the bad. We are not, currently, drawn that way.

Try to read it.

Published by Penguin 2011

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