[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Jon Jeter, Host:
In 1972, an American football player named Duane Thomas turned the tables on an interviewer in the week leading up to the Super Bowl to ask this question:
“If it’s the ultimate game, how come they’re playing it again next year?”
What makes Ha-Joon Chang’s new book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, such a joy to read, is not the challenge it poses to the bad economics that undergirds global finance, though it does precisely that. Just as Thomas did nearly 40 years ago, Chang’s book succeeds, fundamentally, because it challenges the dead language that is used to market as progress our growing political discontent.
The “free market” doesn’t exist today, any more than “free love” did in the 60s. Maximizing shareholder value produces Pyrrhic victories. Why has greater macroeconomic stability yielded so much instability in the form of one speculative bubble after another? What does inflation matter to people with no money?
Even when numbers do dominate the narrative, it is no less illuminating, as when Chang explains that Sven, the bus driver in Stockholm, earns roughly 50 times what Ram earns for driving a bus in New Delhi. “Poor countries are poor,“ he writes, “not because of their poor people. . . but because of their rich people.”Or when he notes that George Washington’s choice of clothes made in Connecticut to wear at his inauguration, may well have violated World Trade Organization strictures today.
An economist who specializes in the political economy of development, Chang’s book is witty, accessible, and playful, in much the same way as the monstrously successful Freakonomics. But if Freakonomics is the textual equivalent of Seinfeld—a book, really, about nothing–there’s nothing banal or trite about Chang’s book. With the storm clouds gathering over the U.S. and Europe, 23 Things provides a useful road map for how we can get out of the rain.