This is a practical meditation on the nature of economies, what we’ve learned about them, and their current level of complexity. It is also a manifesto of what could — or should — be the economy we are headed for: one where the current generation lives as if they are not the last ones in line at the store.
I’ve never studied economics. I read a great deal of non-fiction science, which — in our culture and political climate — often has political or social implications. But now and again I am hungry for a different dish, and it is at such times that I will reach for a book on a subject I feel particularly ignorant about. That is how I picked this book off the “new arrivals” shelf at the local library. It was a good choice.
Not only does the author give a thorough and balanced history of economics, the book is recent enough to include an overview of our most recent economic meltdown. Giving voice to the different views on what represents economic growth, the author also surveys the differing philosophies on the values that guide that growth. For make no mistake about it, every economic system (even the failed, greedy ones) are working under a shared set of values.
I found two themes in this book that made the largest impression on me: the documenting of how (particularly American) corporate and social values have shifted in ways that have damaged our economy; and the proposition that there are three vital aspects to capitalism in a democratic society that cannot all be satisfied at once: efficiency, equality and liberty.
I think I disagree with the author’s conclusion that a certain level of economic growth is essential to human happiness. I think that this places too much emphasis on finance alone, and not a sense of one’s life improving in other ways. However I was very pleased to read repeated examples of nations (notably Australia) whose economists are trying to find better, more useful ways of measuring economic growth beyond the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). (It has seemed to me that we are all too much held in thrall to the stock market ticker to the exclusion of other measurements of how we are really doing as a nation).
But this is a great book for getting up to speed on just where we are — economically speaking — at this point in history, and what we need to attempt in order to catch up with the technological, economic and social changes that have left our economies struggling to thrive in a sustainable way.