How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities
by John Cassidy
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 400 pages
Wow, what a book!
The author analyzes our recent economic meltdown in three parts, each well-written, and packed with information.
The first section, with eight chapters, describes what Cassidy terms “utopian economics.” We find a short history of economic thought, not absolutely complete, but leaving little to quibble over. Adam Smith, Leon Walras, Alfred Marshall—they’re all there plus other economists who are not quite so well known. Cassidy describes microeconomics as it is taught in most schools today—the theory of perfect competition. We hear about the impressive mathematical analysis that accompanies all this, but we are spared any detailed mathematical nomenclature. This is very readable.
From there, we move to Part Two, “Reality-Based Economics.” Here we encounter the many economists who have, in one way or another, pointed out small and large inconsistencies in utopian theory. These ideas are NOT new. Some date back to the 19th Century. Many of the ideas have been ignored, neglected, or thought to be unimportant and have not gained the widespread level of understanding they deserve. So, a reader who is not extremely familiar with history of economic thought may find many new and challenging ideas here.
“The Great Crunch” concludes the book. Here we find an account of the late 2008 economic crash, now accompanied by our understanding of how economic thinking contributed to it. We see our country, largely believing and formulating policy as if we are in free-market utopia, when we actually live and buy and sell in reality. Not a pretty picture.
The book is worth the read for anyone wishing to understand The Great Crunch, as well as for anyone interested in the history of economic thought or even the policy debates we continue to hear today.
This is my first encounter with Cassidy’s writing. His research is excellent. I did find his format for notes to be strange, but that does not detract from a GREAT book.
This Little Kiddy Went to Market: The Corporate Capture of Childhood
by Sharon Beder, Wendy Varney, and Richard Gosden
Pluto Press , 352 pages
Released in May of this year, This Little Kiddy, gives parents some perspective on modern childhood. Oklahomans, and most Americans, will immediately notice the international flavor of the book. The authors are Australian, but rather than focus their analysis strictly on Australia, they spot trends from most English-speaking countries of the world. Beder, who wrote most of the book, has several books to her credit already, and all of them reflect an amazing ability to understand human nature across continents.
Early chapters deal with the ever-more-clever techniques used by advertisers and marketers to entice children. Most parents will recognize the “nag” factor when shopping with kids in tow. Of course, this is old news, but if misery loves company, U.S. parents may appreciate knowing they aren’t alone. Parents all over the English-speaking world share our pain.
Moving past these sad-but-all-too-familiar images, the subject becomes even more ominous. After a chapter on corporate-sponsored “educational” materials supplied to cash-strapped schools, we move to “Turning Schools into Businesses” in Chapter 6. This isn’t just your soft-drink vending machine type of school business, this is an exposé of for-profit schools. The reader learns of strategies employed by education entrepreneurs to undermine public schools, leaving a profitable niche for private schools.
The discussion moves on; we learn of methods used to influence policy for and in public schools. Exactly what do corporations want from public schools? Answer: a product⎯yes, a student is a product. Further, the type of product a corporations wants to “buy” (hire) is a compliant, docile, obedient worker who does not ask many questions! ‘
If you are of a left-wing political persuasion, you might say, “I knew this all along,” while those with more of a right-wing mindset may say, “Baloney/poppycock/balderdash!” The claims in the book are extensively documented (44 pages of footnotes to be exact).
Thus, this book is great food for thought for anyone interested in the next generation in this or any country.