Ha-Joon Chang – 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism (RSA lecture) (audio)
23 Things is the new book by Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang, the author of Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism (2008), and it looks pretty good; the tone, apparently, is light-hearted but the intent is serious. This recent RSA lecture provides a useful ‘taster’ for the book. Some of the ‘things they don’t tell you’ from the book that he focuses on in his lecture include ‘There is no such thing as free market’, ‘The washing machine has changed the world more than the Internet’ and ‘Making rich people richer doesn’t make the rest of us richer.’ If you’re not so keen on podcasts, Chang also writes for the Guardian from time to time (see e.g. We lost sight of fairness in the false promise of wealth and UK needs a selective industrial policy); and they also published a review of his book by John (False Dawn) Gray.
Jeff Madrick – ‘The Case for Big Government’ – First Chapter
Another interesting-looking book, albeit a little older, is The Case for Big Government (2008) by The New School’s Jeff Madrick. Its first chapter is available online courtesy of the New York Times. A sample:
The popular economic case against big government, including the more moderate Democratic version, does not stand up to the evidence. Big-government and high-tax nations do not grow systematically more slowly than nations with lower government spending as a proportion of the economy and lower tax rates. More precisely, big-government and high-tax nations elsewhere simply do not in the real world automatically undermine the capacity to produce more for an extra hour of work — its productivity. Peter Lindert of the University of California at Davis spent years compiling data on the subject in a 2004 book. There is, he concludes, a dramatic “conflict between intuition and evidence. It is well-known that higher taxes and transfers reduce productivity. Well-known — but unsupported by statistics and history.”
Conversely, Madrick argues:
Without an active government, a nation cannot respond adequately to its times. If it does not respond to new conditions, both economic growth and the ability to retain a nation’s values will suffer. In the laboratory of the real world, the governments of rich nations have on balance been central to economic growth, and in the process have retained their citizens’ faith in their nations’ promise and social values. Does this mean government must be big? The lesson is that pragmatic government should prevail over any categorical or typically ideological dismissal of the uses of government, including Bill Clinton’s. If what we think of as big government is necessary to manage change, and in a complex society it may well be, then we should pursue it actively and positively, and make it function well.
My favourite US blogger does a nice demolition of a Cato Institute commentator’s claim that “how efficiently government provides services is less important than deciding what services government should provide”, and uses an example about counterfeiters to justify his stimulus proposal. Speaking of Yglesias, I was chuffed last weekend to find that he had posted a ‘tweet’ plugging Bill Verrall’s recent guest-post about Pakistan. While my references to him tend to focus on economic and domestic policy, Yglesias has written extensively on foreign affairs, including a book entitled Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats.
Idiot/Savant (No Right Turn) – Investing in the future
The mysterious and prolific author of the No Right Turn blog covers Labour’s policy developments as reported by Colin James (and summarised in my Commentary round-up this week).
Carl Miller (Demos) – Conspiracy theories are an issue progressives can no longer ignore
A post on Left Foot Forward promoting a new Demos report on conspiracy theories and why progressives should be concerned about them.
Trevor Mallard (Red Alert) – General debate – Adams on quake
And finally, a nice reflection of the non-partisan air that has accompanied discussion of the Canterbury earthquake: Trevor highlights a speech by National’s MP for Selwyn, Amy Adams.