what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Monday, March 26, 2018

Naked Economists spill the beans

Despite my 4 years of economic studies (and some years actually teaching it to others!), I make no claim to understand the nature of the global plague that has befallen us in the past few decades. I start to read the books which promise to clear my confusion but find that my eyes soon glaze over….
I toiled during my studies in the early 1960s to make sense of its focus on marginal calculations and “indifference curves” but can remember only the following lessons from my four years engrossed in economics books
- the strictness of the various preconditions which governed the idea of (perfect) competition – making it a highly improbable occurrence;
- the questionable nature of the of notion of “profit-maximisation”;
- the belief (thanks to the writings of James Burnham and Tony Crosland) that management (not ownership) was the all- important factor
- trust (thanks to Keynes whose work was dinned into me) in the ability of government to deal with such things as “exuberant expectations”  
- the realization (through the report of the 1959 Radcliffe Commission) that cash was but a small part of money supply. Financial economics was in its infancy then.

For someone with my education and political motivation and experience, however, my continued financial illiteracy is almost criminal but not, I feel, in any way unusual. Most of us seem to lack the patience to buckle down and take the time and discipline it needs to understand the operation of the system of financial capitalism which now has us all in its thrall.
We leave it to the "experts" and have thereby surrendered what is left to us of citizenship and political power. Like many people, I’ve clicked, skimmed and saved – but rarely gone back to read thoroughly. The folders in which they have collected have had various names – such as “urgent reading” or “what is to be done” – but rarely accessed. Occasionally I remember one and blog about it.

The version of Dispatches to the next generation – the small version I posted a few days ago offered 4 recommended books which gave what I considered an alternative account of modern economics –. But I realised that I had omitted not only the best written one (Keen) but an old favourite (Douthwaite); one that is causing a quite a stir (Raworth); as well as the one I would probably rate the best for the interested citizen needing an up-to-date and easy to follow explanation of what is wrong with most economics textbooks (Weeks). So my more considered recommendations are -

·         For the Common Good; Herman Daly and John Cobb (1989). The book which inspired a different approach to economics – written by a theologian (Cobb) and Herman Daley who for 6 years was the principal economist of the World Bank. But, by virtue of being a train blazer, not the easiest of reads
·         Short Circuit – strengthening local economies in an unstable world” - Ronald Douthwaite (1996). Very practical – but also inspirational….22 years on, it hasn’t really been bettered. Full text available at the link
·         Debunking Economics – the naked emperor dethroned; Steve Keen (2001 and 2011) Written before the crash. it might be called the first alternative textbook (except it’s much greater fun to read!). Can be read in full.
·         Economics for Everyone  – a short guide to the economics of capitalism”; Jim Stanford (2006) is a very user-friendly book and has an excellent “further reading” list which was probably the best there was at that time….Once upon a time it was freely available on the internet but now I can find only excerpts…..
·         Zombie Economics - how dead ideas still walk among us; by John Quiggin (2010) is a great read – with a self-explanatory title. He is an Australian author currently completing a book called Economics in Two Lessons
·         Austerity – the history of a dangerous ides; Mark Blyth (2013) written by a political scientist/political economist, it shows how old theories still affect the contemporary world profoundly   
·         Economics of the 1% - how mainstream economics serves the rich, obscures reality and distorts policy; John F Weeks (2014) One of the best introductions to the subject - which can't be faulted for being over-diplomatic! 
·         Vampire Capitalism – fractured societies and alternative futures; Paul Kennedy (2017) A sociologist’s treatment which earns high points by stating in the very first sentence that it has “stood on the shoulders of so many giants that he is dizzy” and then proves the point by having an extensive bibliography with lots of hyperlinks…
·         Doughnut economics – 7 ways to think like a 21st century economist; Kate Raworth (2017). This Oxford economist has made quite an impact with this book which I have not so far managed to read

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