The book which I intend to become lyrical about is “23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism” by Ha-Joon Chang. And what is now so exciting about it?
Well, we know about our present economical system and all those tendencies to push it ever further in a neoliberal direction. We also know about the consequences of this: all this trying to milk profit from more and still more possibilities, using the profits for speculation (= gambling) instead of productive investment, with economical/financial crises, unemployment, impoverishment (also of the state) and all the further consequences of that as a result. The economical so-called science which supports these tendencies is an ideology (= a system of not explanations but justifications) which lives on the fact that it is helpful and flattering to those with money (who then also use their not inconsiderable financial means to spread the ideology further – while others do NOT have that possibility).
There have been authors who are criticizing this system and its ideology since quite a while, also economists among them ((e.g. Joseph Stiglitz, to mention just one of them), and their books were very mostly not bad at all. Still, there was always the expectation that one should read a whole book, and when there arose discussion it was always difficult to remember in which one of the books and where in it there was now that fitting argument for the occasion.
Not so with Chang’s book. The “23 Things …” of the title are 23 chapters. The headline of each chapter is the point which Chang intends to make (which always goes against the neoliberal ideology), but in the beginning of each of the chapters there is always a short piece about “What they tell you”, in which the neoliberal position is described including the reasons which are usually given for it. After this, there follows always a short piece titled “What they don’t tell you”, in which it is pointed out where the neoliberal reasoning is going wrong, after which the problem under consideration is discussed more explicitly in an unexcited, reasonable and easy-to-read way, usually on slightly less than 10 pages.
To give a few examples of the “Things”: Thing 1 – There is no such thing as a free market; Thing 2 – Companies should NOT be run in the interest of their owners; Thing 4 – The washing machine has changed the world more than the internet has; Thing 7 – Free market policies rarely make poor countries rich; Thing 9 – We do not live in a post-industrial age; and so on, up to Thing 23 – Good economic policy does not require good economists. After all of which there follows still a 12-page conclusion which presents 8 principles “How to rebuild the world economy”.
Chang is himself an economist, in fact a professor in Cambridge. The book has been praised by the Observer, the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Independent on Sunday, even the Sunday Times and the Financial Times. Into kustannus came already out with a Finnish edition (“23 tosiasiaa kapitalismista”, for 27,90).
It is perhaps misleading to call this simply “a book”. Thinking about it, there rather come to mind things like Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book (which was just a loose collection of thoughts which he thought important and helpful) or those 95 Theses by which Martin Luther was shaking the Catholic Church in 1517. Thus, should one call Chang’s book an “anti-capitalist catechism”? Chang is in fact cutting down to size, or even shredding, 23 neoliberal articles of faith (and what is left of a religion after such?), but no: Chang is in fact not anti-capitalist, but just criticizing the present neoliberal trend in capitalism. But well, also Luther just wanted to be a reformer – after which the reaction of the “true believers” pushed him into the position of a revolutionary …
The book is in fact not especially new – first published in 2010, Penguin edition in 2011, Finnish edition by Into 2012. But there is this experience about it: after first seeing the book in Akademen and getting interested about it, I had counted my money and decided that I should at that time better not spend the 16,90 for it, and when I came later back to buy it, it was sold out; when asking, though, I was informed that Akademen had already ordered another 10 copies (which are at present not sold out yet). From this and a few other impressions I conclude that the sale of the book is still in the process of gathering speed.
And if I could do my share to add to the speed I should just be happy – I shall continue recommending the book around (most warmly!), and several people will get it from me as a present. And if somebody could come out with a Swedish edition it would be STILL better.