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23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism Hardcover – January 4, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Chang (Bad Samaritans) takes on the "free-market ideologues," the stentorian voices in economic thought and, in his analysis, the engineers of the recent financial catastrophe. Free market orthodoxy has inserted its tenterhooks into almost every economy in the world--over the past three decades, most countries have privatized state-owned industrial and financial firms, deregulated finance and industry, liberalized international trade and investments, and reduced income taxes and welfare payments. But these policies have unleashed bubbles and ever increasing income disparity. How can we dig ourselves out? By examining the many myths in the narrative of free-market liberalism, crucially that the name is itself a misnomer: there is nothing "free" about a market where wages are largely politically determined; that greater macroeconomic stability has not made the world economy more stable; and a more educated population itself won't make a country richer. An advocate of big, active government and capitalism as distinct from a free market, Chang presents an enlightening précis of modern economic thought--and all the places it's gone wrong, urging us to act in order to completely rebuild the world economy: "This will some readers uncomfortable... it is time to get uncomfortable." (Jan.) (c)
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“Chang, befitting his position as an economics professor at Cambridge University, is engagingly thoughtful and opinionated at a much lower decibel level. ‘The "truths" peddled by free-market ideologues are based on lazy assumptions and blinkered visions,' he charges.” ―Time
“Chang presents an enlightening précis of modern economic thought--and all the places it's gone wrong, urging us to act in order to completely rebuild the world economy: ‘This will [make] some readers uncomfortable…[;] it is time to get uncomfortable.'” ―Publishers Weekly
“Myth-busting and nicely-written collection of essays” ―Independent (UK)
“Shaking Economics 101 assumptions to the core … Eminently accessible, with a clearly liberal (or at least anticonservative) bent, but with surprises along the way--for one, the thought that markets need to become less rather than more efficient.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“For anyone who wants to understand capitalism not as economists or politicians have pictured it but as it actually operates, this book will be invaluable.” ―John Gray, Observer (UK)
“A lively, accessible and provocative book.” ―Sunday Times (UK)
“For 40 years, I have worked as a journalist and trained thousands of other journalists from my former perches as a University of Missouri Journalism School professor and as executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors. I have written newspaper articles, magazine features and entire books with heavy doses of economics policy and business behavior. I wish the book 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism had been available when I was a rookie; I would have been more alert to the hands-off-business catechism by which Americans are relentlessly indoctrinated.” ―Steven Weinberg, Remapping Debate
“I doubt there is one book, written in response to the current economic crisis, that is as fun or easy to read as Ha-Joon Chang's 23 Things They Don't Tell you About Capitalism.” ―AlterNet Executive Editor Don Hazen
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Top Customer Reviews
I enjoyed reading this book. Although the ideas are complex, Prof. Chang offers them in straightforward, clear prose that doesn't require you to use a dictionary (fluent English readers, that is. I recommend it.
Another tremendous economics book. Literally shaking the foundations of the present Weltbild. Splinters of Chang's hammering will forcibly, or at least probably, also hit the present paradigm of economic science.
What are the real market forces? Is market economy just a battlefield of grass root forces? Chang throws 23 stones to break the old beliefs in this respect. He asks respect to government power by remarkable quantitative argumentation, but without use of snobbish scientific methods, just using common sense and well related percentages, mostly very convincing. His main trend is that countries and economies with well organized government do better than governments only lightly interfering the market process.
Very descriptive are the headings of this book, such as: There is no such thing as a free market, The washing machine has changed the world more than the internet has, Governments can pick winners, We are not smart enough to leave things to the market or Good economic policy does not require good economists.
From my nordic standpoint it is flattering and even complimentary that it seems that in all comparisons my tiny country Finland is mentioned among the exemplary models.
How persuasive as his argumentation may be, I do not get completely rid of my suspicions and confusions. On one hand Chang praises the role of government regulation: Governments can pick winners, on the other, he gives full credit to market system, if, however, in the spirit of it being the least harmful of all available systems. Communism has clearly shown its merits by ending up to complete failure. Although one of his headings is: Despite the fall of communism, we are still living in planned economies. The next heading is: Equality of opportunity may not be fair and after this: Big government makes people more open to change.
As conclusion Chang bravely says his opinion: how to rebuild the world economy. He formulates eight directives or more modestly principles as he says.
The first of then is drawn from a word of a surprising big authority, Winston Churchill, paraphrasing just what I already cited above: 'capitalism is the worst economic system except for all the others'. In the light of what we have read it is not surprising that Chang's criticism is of free-market capitalism, and not all kinds of capitalism.
Second: we should build our new economic system on the recognition that human rationality is severely limited.
Third: while acknowledging that we are not selfless angels, we should build a system that brings out the best, rather than worst, in people.
Fourth: we should stop believing that people are always paid what they ‘deserve’.
Fifth: we need to take ‘making things’ more seriously.
Sixth: we need to strike a better balance between finance and ‘real’ activities.
Seventh: government needs to become bigger and more active.
Eighth: the world economic system needs to ‘unfairly’ favour developing countries.
Who could dispute these? Every one of them is worth pondering and referring to Chang's argumentation throughout the 23 stone hard pieces of text in his book. No way of avoiding full five stars.
I myself in front of a completely different present view of the state of my country's economy compared to Chang's am planning to cook up a new utopistic general economic theory. I have decided to base it on only two corner stones: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and Keynes's General Theory. Keeping strictly to these two. Being ready to mend and change, if trying to present anything in conflict with these. Now having read Chang's 23 Things, I have decided to ad this book as the third corner stone to my utopy. Three corner stones for an utopistic structure are more than enough, particularly as the structure is ready done, lacking just the start, as says a wisecracking proverb of my homestead Savo.
As he points out, every market is skewed for many reasons, but seldom if ever "free". Two of many examples stand out - In the 1820s there was a political fight to outlaw child labor - the capitalists screaming that the free market of labor would be destroyed and the economic future of England was at stake if restrictions were put on children being allowed to work. It is obvious to us today that working a 7 year old child working 12 hours a day endangered the health an well being of the child as well as the society as a whole. He also points out that a truly free labor market would require free movement of people anywhere in the world as they might choose to fill the needs of labor in various places/countries. A second point among many, is that developing economies (including the beginnings of the United States, notwithstanding Adam Smith) do not grow well without protective tariffs and rules that provide an umbrella of safety for new embryonic enterprises to grow to a size and competence required to compete with developed economies. In more recent times, several managed economies including China, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore to mention a few have out performed the so-called free-market economies by large margins.
I highly recommend this book as a read for anyone wanting to gain some balance regarding economic principles in a world filled with loud confusing noise about the direction we need to head in order to navigate through our challenging future.
The book is wonderfully written, but I'm afraid it may not get as many readers as it should since it is so poorly marketed. Notably, the cover includes a group of pictures including a map/flag of Communist China, a picture of Chairman Mao (on currency), and a statue of Lenin. Since the book does not at all take a Marxist approach (the author is himself a capitalist, just very skeptical of the current consensus), I don't know why these images were chosen for the cover, since the images will turn off a lot of potential readers who will never open the book because of them.