The book jacket flap praises this book as a modern urban classic. The book “is written in the form of a Platonic dialogue” which I hate.
“The conversation over coffee among five contemporary New Yorkers. . . discuss[es]: Does economic life obey the same rules as those governing the system in nature? For example, can the way fields and forests maximize their intakes and uses of sunlight teach us something about how economics expend wealth and jobs and can do this in environmental beneficial ways?”
The book is difficult to read despite what reviewers say. The drifty conversation model makes it difficult to follow a theme. The multiple personalities that express various points of view are difficult to grasp as entire characters. A novel would build some backstory so the points of view would have something on which to anchor their views.
Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Blyth (2013)
I could start and end my commentary with this simple imperative: BUY THIS BOOK.
Economics was one subject about which I had little interest and a lot of hostility when forced to take it in college. The teacher tried his best, but trying to explain economic theory to a bunch of kids who have possibly never had any knowledge of how much money their parents make, spend, or what things cost is a rather hopeless proposition. At least for me, combined with minimal exposure to life long enough to seen the actual consequences of economic theory in policymaking and being able to see the short-term and long-term impact of such policies, made the content just too much of a word salad to be useful.
Note, there is an updated and revised 2010 edition. This cover image is from the 2000 edition I got from the library. They may have the newer version too, and I definitely want to check it out (pun intended!).
I had heard the name of Jim Hightower and recognized him as a politician. I had no idea he was so FUNNY! Since he was from Texas I just assumed he was one of the humorless, hostile, conservative types. Turns out he will SKEWER ANYONE with equal delight!
Jim Hightower, America’s most popular populist, is a bestselling author, radio commentator, public speaker, and all-around political sparkplug whose credo is “You can fight the gods and still have fun.” Twice elected to statewide office in Texas, he has long battled the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought to Be: the working families, consumers, the environment, small businesses, and just plain folks.
Though the jacket copy above used the cringe-worthy “folks” that has forever been made vomit-inducing from the W use of it (and followed by Obama continuation of same while speaking in an elegant fully literate way otherwise), I was delighted to read this description, itself amusing.
The title alone perfectly sums up the 2016 election without needing any updating. In fact, it might be even more applicable to 2016. The 17 losers (and I include 45 in particular despite the Electoral concept biting US all in the ass), was astonishing in the shallowness of the candidates, the YUUUUUGENESS of their egos (45!! Unbelievable. Trust me. Believe me. Sad.)
The Road to Serfdom: text and documents, the definitive edition by F. A. Hayek. Edited by Bruce Caldwell (2007)
While I was looking for a Goodreads link for this book, I spotted another book referencing the Hayek’s title, by Grover Norquist (author of the coercive “no taxes” pledge that he had Republicans sign, assuring that government would become “small enough to drown in a bathtub.” He is described as more of a Libertarian than a Republican in some places. Norquist gave a lecture on his views in a 2013, the lectures were named in honor of Hayek.
The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality by Angus Deaton (2013)
This is a good book. Highly recommended to read. Full of details that are really informative but results in a lot of numbers and statistics. The following tidbits are in random order rather than sequentially by chapters.
POVERTY IN THE UNITED STATES (P. 179+)
I have been puzzled a lot by how poverty is established because when I do the math, to pay for all the basics (rent, food, utilities, phone, Internet, medical insurance, drug insurance, co-pays and deductibles) it exceeds poverty by a lot. I don’t even remotely understand how any one can manage just the cost of tampons and diapers alone, much less clothing, especially for growing kids — the mind boggles. Prior to this section there was an informative but this part was a bit tedious on the GDP and how it is calculated. Informative true, but also depressing because he described how inadequate and somewhat spurious our economic system is based on the GDP.
The Economic Illusion: False choices between prosperity and social justice by Robert Kuttner (1984)
Robert Kuttner has become a favorite author because he really knows his stuff and is a very good writer making for an enjoyable read. He is also the author of Debtors’ Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility. This book had one of my favorite chapters ever, titled The Moral Economy of Debt [link to come later], basically pointing out the contradiction between the treatment of bankruptcy by individuals as a moral failure contrasted with the get out of jail free card by failed corporations (like Donald Trump’s 4 instances where he sheltered his personal wealth from the risk he took with his businesses).
In this book he makes the case that social justice does not preclude a dynamic economy. This book written a tad more academically than his later books, but is fascinating also because of the date it was published – 1984! [nod to Orwell fans out there since what he discusses is exactly true today] Here are some long quotes from the book.
The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It is a thorough discussion of economics (ugh hated it in school) that is actually readable if a bit difficult to grasp because I think what the author is saying is that economists make up shit and then persuade politicians to implement their “theories” without grasping consequences — or giving a damn — and the Chicago School cabal led by the lethal charisma of Milton Friedman and his devoted follower, Donald Rumsfeld, Ronald Reagan (Reaganomics is the same brutal theory), and republicans ever since.
This book was due back at the library before I had a chance to grab some quotes for this post, so I will have to get it back to do so. I have kind of developed a better method of reading and quoting simultaneously now though so I won’t have to go back and/or find my notebooks of extensive quotes and comments. On paper. Yeah, I know, what was I thinking!
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein (2006)
(author of No Logo)
From the inner jacket blurb: “Klein traces back the intellectual origins of disaster capitalism back to the University of Chicago’s economics department under Milton Friedman whose influence is still felt around the world.” And not in a good way. This is the cabal that persuaded Reagan et al that trickle down theory was a sensible plan. Not sure if they did so maliciously or for fun, or just some esoteric playing but with real world consequences.
These events [like 9/11] are examples of what Naomi Klein calls “the shock doctrine”: the use of public disorientation following massive collective shocks — wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters — to push through highly unpopular economic shock therapy. Sometimes, when the first two shocks don’t succeed in wiping out all resistance, a third is employed: that of the electrode in the prison cell or of the Taser gun. [from jacket blurb again]
It is a long hard read. Descriptions of torture of prisoners is just one example. After the horrific photos were released and having been shocked to learn it was not Americans being tortured but Americans doing the torturing, I was dumbfounded. My dad was a bomber pilot in WWII and while the Geneva Convention wasn’t completely complied with, and he easily could have been killed, I don’t think I ever heard of Nazi’s treating POWs like we treated Iraq POWs. That is to say, brutally, lawlessly, and criminally. Yet Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld are free to enjoy doing a little painting or whatever enjoying the profit of the 40 million or more that Halliburton made for Cheney off the no-bid contracts for the war supplies. I would love to see an audit of there costs versus what they charged the government. I’ll bet it would show such blatant overpricing that it would even make Republicans cry foul.