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Recommend a book

by Metatone Wed Nov 20th, 2013 at 04:53:51 PM EST

I've been asked for a list of books by someone who wants to become more aware of politics and economics.

They have a long trip coming up, likely without internet - hence the need for books, rather than me just saying "Read ET."

All suggestions welcome!


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I started with Keynes' General Theory, then I was about to put down some Veblen and realised I wasn't sure which one to recommend. Likewise Galbraith.

So - suggestions welcome!

Feel free to stray in any direction you like - philosophy, science, etc.

We're talking a generally educated 18 yr old with intelligence, but not necessarily much background, so starter books first. Feel free to name advanced books, but please link them to a starter book.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Nov 20th, 2013 at 04:56:10 PM EST
The Affluent Society by Galbraith is really good, easy to read and fun.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 06:26:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Plus, Economics in Perspective and Money: Where It Came, Whence It Went.

Both eminently readable.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 05:00:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My first book on economics was Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers. I would still recommend it for a starting point. It is a series of biographical sketches set in time and accompanied by a discussion of the contributions of each economist covered. Another relatively early work for me was Muller's Adam Smith in his time and ours

The Global Minotaur by Yanis Varoufakis is a really good read with an excellent survey of economic history and the accompanying political economics from WW II to the present. To understand the social dimension of what economics has wrought I recommend Karl Polanyi's superb The Great Transformation 1944. It is a combination of the early social and economic history of England on the eve of the Industrial Revolution through the transformation of English society into a market economy plus the impact of that transformation in other countries.  It will show the reader just what that meant. A foundational work neglected because it is too revealing.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 12:44:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Varoufakis: the recent Modern political economics (with two co-authors) but also his earlier (out of print, but you should be able to find it on-line) Foundations of Economics. The latter is basically an introductory text on economics, but each standard chapter is followed by a chapter on the history of the ideas, and then by a critique of them

Graeber Debt.

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Nov 20th, 2013 at 05:05:17 PM EST
seems like we are all reading 'keynesianism for dummies' (or how i learned to love contracyclic economics and full employment) in daily installments here.

watching italians mourning the deaths from bad weather in sardegna (some avoidable if rescue efforts had been better funded, not to mention flood prevention schemes made with shoddy cement or stalled in piles of bureaucracy), while contemplating the latest edicts from the troika, or the price of new  -apparently indispensable- f-35 jets, it seems like some are slowly getting it that it doesn't have to be this way.

and it always comes back to what keynes pointed out quite clearly to non-dummies so long ago.

so keynesianism needs to be spelled out in no uncertain terms as the true understanding of how economies work.

'renter euthanasia' needs to become as common a parlance as 'power to the people' or 'workers of the world unite'. right now keynes' prose, elegant, succinct and logical as it is, flies right over most folks' heads... whooooosh!

yet is keynesianism really above the intellectual range of a 12 year old, if rendered in such a way as would be the most pedagogically advanced? we have surely come a long way since then at simplifying matters once deemed too arcane for public consumption, like relativity, quantum theory and mechanics etc.

doubtless there are scads of funny, creative vids on utoob, maybe that's the way forward as more kids watch them than read... economics is veiled in mystification, but even the most counter-intuitive parts of keynes' reasoning is utterly coherent with history so really shouldn't be rocket science, it seems after perusing all the motley ruminations on ET since the net was knee-high.

ET's brainz trust could definitely write it, a good cartoonist would help a lot too.

then we could all help it go viral, sharing until our mice beg for mercy.


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Nov 20th, 2013 at 05:47:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
renter euthanasia

That sounds like something the 1% may have in mind. Keynes talked about  euthanasia of the rentier. He expected it to happen naturally, but he was wrong.

by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 03:27:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
oops... the power of one letter to reverse meaning!

i-rent?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 06:44:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The main problem for Keynes appears to be a political practicality, after all. Are there books on how to upset the 1%? Or relaxing them without upsetting?
by das monde on Sat Nov 23rd, 2013 at 12:53:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gene Sharp's From Dictatorship to Democracy is by far the best I have found. It is an how-to, not an academic study (though based on Sharp's studies), and is as far as I cna see as applicable to economic dictatorship as to political dictatorship.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Sat Nov 23rd, 2013 at 03:33:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed on Varoufakis' two books.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Nov 23rd, 2013 at 08:22:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years.

If nothing else it's a vaccine against a whole ton of Neo-Classical Intellectual Diseases.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Nov 20th, 2013 at 05:11:03 PM EST
Debt has very interesting anecdotes but it is neither a very good historical overview, nor a good discussion of debt in our time. I would recommend reading it at a later date to correct the view of history assumed in standard economics.

For economical history I would rather recommend reading Ferdinand Braudels' Civilizations and Capitalism which gives a broad overview of global economic history with a focus on industrialisation and Europe. If it is too heavy the summary, The Dynamics of Capitalism, condenses the argument but leaves out much of bildung.

The Great Divergence by Kenneth Pommeranz and The Industrious revolution are other interesting takes on industrialisation and economic development, but are not good as starting points since they are so driven by their respective thesis.

Tony Judts' Postwar - a history of Europe since 1945 is a magisterial overview of modern European history. It is an excellent foundation from which to approach more thesis driven works about Europe today.

by chumchu on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 12:47:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Civilizations and Capitalism which gives a broad overview of global economic history with a focus on industrialisation and Europe.

Without having read it, I must say I'm a touch skeptical of any work on that time period chiefly viewed from a European perspective. During that period, Europe was the tail, not the dog, of the global trade system.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 03:48:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It shows that you have not read it =). It is written from a global perspective as far as the sources and earlier research allowed in the seventies. The focus on Europe is notable in his discussion of industrialisation for a reason. Capitalism was also relatively strong in Europe in the early modern period in comparison with China or the Islamic world, characterised by free markets.

China was the dominating economy in the ca. 1450-1650 and very powerful after that. Silver flowed to China in enormous quantities in exchange for luxury goods. After that the Europeans dominated global trade and controlled important parts of the regional asian trade as well. The european economy was also devloping technologically at quick pace and becoming even less labour intensive than Chinas. Chinas economic development went into a significant population expansion, and the colonisation of highland and periphery.

by chumchu on Sat Nov 23rd, 2013 at 12:02:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hell, it's a vaccine against some of civilization's core assumptions.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 01:31:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For a very readable book on the recent crisis I recommend The Big Short, Michael Lewis: from an Amazon review:

Lewis writes a compelling narrative. It will increase your understanding of the financial shenanigans, and possibly deepen your cynicism about Wall Street. But you will find this story fascinating. It reads just as well as a good novel. Too bad it's not fiction.

For the politics: Profit Over People, Noam Chomsky; from a review by someone of about the same age:


Chomsky's Profit Over People is an insighful and at times shocking analysis of the true motives and practices of multinational corporations and the governement economic policies they operate within. Chomsky spares no time in hammering his message against the concentration of power in the hands of the few through the use of several detailed case studies. As a student of economics and finance at Oklahoma State University, this book caused me to step back and question the very foundation of Smith's free market theory which has comprised my studies thus far. As a reader, I became disgusted by the prospect of private interests having the ability to manipulate the world economy, government policy, and the subposively "free" press to serve their own greed-driven interests while watching the masses suffer.

The excellent: 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang

in which he presents the mainstream views then tears them apart with convincing evidence.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Nov 20th, 2013 at 06:20:06 PM EST
Lewis is always a good read, though I would recommend Liar's Poker over The Big Short.

And I'd recommend reading The Great Crash 1929 before either of Lewis' books. Lewis tells the story of that which is different, but that story is best understood through the perspective granted by the story of that which is the same.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 06:58:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Both of Lewis books are worth a read. That said, I prefer his shorter essays in Vanity fair etc where he delivers his points bam bam bam, rather than losing them in amongst the flow of entertainingly recited events

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 07:59:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In roughly ascending order of difficulty (either linguistic or conceptual):

Galbraith: The Great Crash 1929, then The Affluent Society, then The New Industrial State.

Reich, Robert: Supercapitalism

Kalecki: Political Aspects of Full Employment.

An unabridged version of Wealth of Nations is also highly recommended, albeit of less contemporary relevance.

Reading order doesn't matter much, except that Supercapitalism should be read after The New Industrial State, as it builds upon and extends the discussion therein.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 06:53:26 AM EST
The Kalecki is a paper, not a book (or did he publish a more extended version?). You can find the paper I'm thinking of here.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 12:20:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a paper, yes. All the same, an indispensable one.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 03:42:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One of my recent favorites has been Sweden: The Middle Way, a book on the Swedish cooperative movement by an American journalist writing in the 1930s.  

The approach of the Swedish cooperatives (consumer) to pricing is interesting.  They purposely attacked those products with the greatest profit margins. With the internet, this whole model seems to present intriguing possibilities. The section on the Phoebus Cartel seems most relevant.

Imagine if you had a coop website that broke down where the money went, and challenged firms in the rest of the economy to do the same.  When you go to get a car fixed you expect a breakdown of part costs, labor, etc.  Why the hell shouldn't we expect the same when we make any other purchase?

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 11:08:49 AM EST
One book that helped me understand a little more about what's going on was "Financialization and the World Economy" edited by Gerald A. Epstein. It dovetailed with the more divulgative texts of the Italian sociologist Luciano Gallino which are not available in English.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Thu Nov 21st, 2013 at 04:44:12 PM EST
Three short books and one that an be read in a short time, about depression economics:

Thorstein Veblen: The Theory of Business Enterprise (1904)

John K Galbraith: The Great Crash, 1929

Irving Fisher's paper on The Debt-Deflation Theory of Great Depressions is available in book form, and it's just 46 pages.

And finally, oral history:

Studs Terkel: Hard Times

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 02:40:28 AM EST
There are a few links to the actual article by Irving to download as pdf. Here for example. Cheaper & faster.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 05:53:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Theory of Business Enterprise is also available as an e-book from archive.org

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Nov 23rd, 2013 at 12:25:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
terkel was one of the best writer-historian-social observers to ever walk the planet.

must-reads also 'working' and 'the good war'.

so accessible, so evocative...

sorta like a cross of kuralt, bageant and moyers, with bells on.


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Nov 23rd, 2013 at 01:09:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Read Keynes. Not works on Keynes, not Keynesians, nor indeed pretty much anything in economics written after about 1970, because more or less all of it is error, propaganda and mental malware. Just read Keynes himself.
If you still have questions after that, Uhm, sorry, that is as good as it gets. Most further readings will decrease, not increase your understanding, because obscuring the truth is why they were written.
by Thomas on Fri Nov 22nd, 2013 at 06:33:43 AM EST
Money - Whence It Came, Where It Went

by John Kenneth Galbraith

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire

by marco on Sun Nov 24th, 2013 at 05:30:03 AM EST


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