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Book review: 23 Things they don't tell you about capitalism

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Jul 16, 2014 11:00:00 AM

Book review: 23 Things they don't tell you about capitalism


Is looking at the financial crisis with a smile and learning from it possible? Ha-Joon Chang proves it to be so in his book “23 things they don’t tell you about capitalism”Book Review Think deeper

If you are in desperate need for arguments in discussions about capitalism and make your “I know it all and even better friends” go pale from your cutting edge analysis with a smirk, “23 Things they don’t tell you about Capitalism” might be the right read for you.

I got a hold of this book when waiting at Dublin Airport to go off to a business trip because the title stood out to me. Ha-Joon Chang is a professor at Cambridge who combines his experience with common sense and humour to make the mechanics of capitalism more transparent without using jargon. 

“23 things they don’t tell you about capitalism” divides into 23 chapters called “Things” in which Ha-Joon Chang challenges common beliefs about the free market, provides concrete and easy to understand examples where state intervention / regulation worked for the benefit of the market and closes with a conclusion.

If you are searching for an easy read that entertains, gives you a break from another book or something to read before going to bed and being educated at the same time about capitalism this is the right pick.
For the ones who are into number crunching to support the theories and challenges Ha-Joon Chang throws at capitalism will be searching long and hard in these 263 pages.

I enjoyed this read, finished it within a day of travelling and will definitely revisit some of Chang’s arguments to challenge them and keep them in mind for future reference for the next time I talk about the euro crises at a party.

Thing 1: 
There is no such thing as a free market
Thing 2: 
Companies should not be run in the interest of their owners
Thing 3: 
Most people in rich countries are paid more than they should be
Thing 4: 
The washing machine has changed the world more than the internet has (my favourite)
Thing 5: 
Assume the worst about people and you get the worst
Thing 6: 
Greater macroeconomic stability has not made the world economy more stable
Thing 7:
Free market policies rarely make poor countries rich
Thing 8: 
Capital has a nationality
Thing 9: 
We do not live in a post industrial age
Thing 10: 
The US does not have the highest living standard in the world 
(as a born german I would agree but I think this must be a revolting thing to any American)
Thing 11: 
Africa is not destined for underdevelopment
Thing 12: 
Government can pick winners
Thing 13: 
Making rich people richer doesn’t make the rest of us richer
Thing 14: 
US managers are over-priced (ouch if you are one)
Thing 15: 
People in poor countries are more entrepreneurial than the people in rich countries
Thing 16: 
We are not smart enough to leave thing to the market
Thing 17: 
More education in itself will not make a country richer
Thing 18:
What is good for General Motors is not necessarily good for the United States
Thing 19: 
Despite the fall of communism, we are still living in planned economies
Thing 20: 
Equality of opportunity may not be fair
Thing 21: 
Big government makes people more open to change
Thing 22: 
Financial markets not to become less, not more efficient
Thing 23: 
Good economic policy does not require good economics


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