M. Michael Brady
This entertaining book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Cambridge University Professor and Guardian columnist Ha-Joon Chang, punctures the principal myths about capitalism that free-market economists would like to have us believe.
As Prof. Chang points out, our failure to understand economics is due in part to its basic nature. Despite there being a “Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences,” he persuasively maintains that “economics is not a science like physics or chemistry, but a political exercise” (p. 10). So as in politics, there often are disparities between what’s said and what actually happens.
The book has no chapters in the conventional sense. It’s rather like a collection of 23 short stories devoted to things relative to capitalism or the myriad theories about it. Each “thing story” starts with a short paragraph on the received knowledge, entitled “What they tell you.” Then comes the truth of the matter, entitled “What they don’t tell you.”
Readers of this newspaper may appreciate the high standing of Norway among the “What they don’t tell you” truths. In Thing 10, it’s observed that the U.S. is not the richest country in the world anymore. Seven European countries have higher per-capita incomes, starting with Norway as the highest (p. 104). In Thing 12, the government’s shaping and direction of industrial development and ventures in State-Owned Enterprises in four countries—Norway, France, Finland, and Austria—is held responsible for bolstering national economies. The equivalent in the U.S. is the Federal Government’s subsidies of research and development (p. 132).
In Thing 19, it’s pointed out that government planning does not interfere with capitalism and may actually promote it (p. 205). Likewise, in Thing 21, it’s pointed out that European countries with big welfare states—Norway, Sweden, and Finland—have enjoyed economic growth rates as fast as or faster than those of the U.S. (p. 222).
Along the way are many revelations. Most surprising is the observation that Karl Marx, regarded as the founding father of communism, was right about capitalism. Though he was wrong in assuming that the joint-stock company would pave the way for socialism, “his prediction that the new institution of generalized limited liability would put the productive forces of capitalism on a new plane proved extremely prescient” (p. 15).
This is a book that dispels the gobbledygook and illuminates the simple truths about how the economy of the world works, in plain language. Recommended reading.
This article originally appeared in the July 24, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.