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23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism By Ha-Joon Chang (Allen Lane)

Last update - Friday, July 15, 2011, 22:12 By Rose Foley

This is a book that is about exactly what it says on the cover – 23 things they don’t tell you about capitalism – although the identity of ‘they’ remains unclear. Fox News, perhaps? Or CNN? The media and politicians in general? It’s hard to tell, because they definitely live somewhere more mainstream than me: the 23 things in this book are pretty widely acknowledged as fact in both academic and alternative circles.

And therein lies both the downfall as well as the brilliance of this book. If you already know of, or agree with, such issues as the Tobin Tax, welfare as a method of discouraging labour exploitation, or the fact that economies develop faster with some degree of protectionism, very little of what this book has to offer will come as news to you.
It is clearly directed at those who have little to no education in economics and are contentedly swallowing whatever the powers that be tell them whole. In fact, considering the plodding place, 23 Things is clearly directed at those with little to no education at all. If that’s not you, the occasional interesting fact thrown in about east Asia (Chang is from South Korea) will provide welcome relief from yet another ‘thing’ that is boring you to tears.
Of course, Chang is an economist of towering intellect, and therefore none of what disappointed me about this book was accidental. It was never intended for people like me. It was intended for your average Fox News viewer who thinks that state medical care is commensurate with Stalinism and that taxing the rich is a bad idea because, God knows, they might someday win the lottery. The title What They Don’t Tell You is a marketing masterstroke, luring such devotees into anything that sounds remotely like a conspiracy.
In this respect, 23 Things is an ingenious, even devious, attempt to finally reach out to such indoctrinees of market fundamentalism and bring them over where they belong. Like a quaint economic magician, Chang exposes the illogical doublethink manoeuvres of hardline free-marketeers using nothing more than basic common sense, a few inconvenient facts, and the occasional amusing yet illustrative example.
So go out and buy this book for whomever you think could do with having their brain rearranged on these points, and then stand over them while they read it.

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