23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism

23Things Cambridge professor Hu-Joon Chang’s international bestseller is an accessible, balanced, warm and entertaining analysis of the myths of modern capitalism. Many books on the subject of what has gone wrong have been published since the crash of 2008, but “23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism” goes right to the very heart of the problems in plain language. It shows how the world really works.

Early on, the author makes it clear that this is not an anti-capitalist manifesto. “Being critical of free-market ideology is not the same thing as being against capitalism.” With countless examples from people’s everyday lives, aswell as the world of business and politics, different forms of capitalism are explored. Particular issues with the USA and UK model from the last thirty years feature prominently. To a certain extent, the chapter headings speak for themselves. “Thing 1 – There is no such thing as a free market” (government is always involved in setting rules and regulations to some degree), “Thing 2 – Companies should not be run in the interests of their owners” (running companies for the often short-term interests of shareholders risks destroying the entire system in the long-term), and so on.

Ha-JoonChangFor many, some of the observations in “23 Things…” may seem like common sense, but Chang can still be quite shocking as he slices right through widely accepted political and economic orthodoxies. In the conclusion he suggests ways to rebuild the world economy – build systems that acknowledge the limits of human rationality, ban complex financial products that don’t benefit society in the long run, build a system that brings out the best in people, take “making things” more seriously, “unfairly” favour developing countries – who have suffered badly as a result of free-market policies.

This is a great book that cuts through a lot of economic and political waffle like a knife.

The Future by Al Gore

TheFutureAlGoreThis is a powerful and brave book from the former American Vice President. Al Gore attempts nothing less than a current overview of the whole human condition and our situation on planet Earth, suggesting the choices we have to make and where they will lead us. He is neither overly optimistic nor overly pessimistic.

Gore carefully covers all the complicated big issues in plain language. The current crises of global capitalism and democracy are explored in great depth and from many angles – “Democracy and capitalism have both been hacked.” Interconnected topics include the dominance of corporate elites, the corruption of politics, internet security, the origins of mass marketing, the ethics of modern science, the harm done by excessive use of antibiotics, population issues, the inability of GDP to account for the true consequences of economic growth, the depletion of topsoil and water supplies, the pros and cons of the rise of China, and the politics of the denial of climate change.

AlGoreIn the conclusion, perhaps inevitably, Gore makes the case for America leading the way forward. I must admit that’s probably the only bit of this visionary volume that doesn’t quite ring true for me. But, as with just about all the suggestions in this book, his “priority goals” for America’s recovery make sense – limit the role of money in politics, and reform old laws that allow a small minority to stop legislative action in the U.S. Senate. “The world desperately needs leadership that is based on the deepest human values.” Al Gore deserves to be taken seriously. Here’s hoping this book makes at least a small difference to the mess we are in.

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