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False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World [Hardcover]

Alan Beattie
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Jun 2009

Why do oil and diamonds lead to economic disaster more often than boom? Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine? Why might believing in God be good for your balance-sheet?

In 2001 Argentina's government bankrupted itself, yet for the past two hundred years it had enjoyed a vista of economic opportunity almost identical to that of the USA. Why did the USA succeed while Argentina stalled? Botswana and Sierra Leone are both blessed with abundant diamonds. Why did Botswana became the world's fastest-growing economy while Sierra Leone suffered a decade of brutal civil war?

The path to prosperity is rarely obvious and the sources of success are often unexpected. Time and again, world leaders have failed to learn the lessons of economic history, and their mistakes continue to have surprising and catastrophic consequences. In False Economy, Alan Beattie uses extraordinary stories of economic triumph and disaster to explain how some countries went wrong while others went right, and why it's so difficult to change course once you're on the path to ruin.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (4 Jun 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670917370
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670917372
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 594,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

After graduating with a degree in history from Balliol College, Oxford, Alan Beattie took a master's degree in economics at Cambridge. He worked as an economist at the Bank of England until 1998 when he joined the Financial Times. He is currently the world trade editor of the Financial Times.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A rather short and witty book on a vast subject 13 Oct 2009
By Gaurav Sharma VINE VOICE
If chronologically authored, an account or analytical narrative about economic history of the world would have taken-up many volumes. Instead, Alan Beattie, world trade Editor of the Financial Times, chose to employ his wit, knowledge and researching skills to conjure up this book comprising of short thematic chapters offering viewpoints coupled with historical contexts on anything from natural resources and agriculture to urbanisation and economic progress (or lack of it in some cases).

As for the element of surprise, Beattie is true to his word. He begins the narrative by fictionally staging the 9/11 attacks in Argentina and economic collapse of the U.S. Of course, in 2001 actual events occurred the other way round, but the author suggests it could so easily have been different. For most of the 19th century both nations held similar economic potential, yet the U.S. evolved into a superpower while Argentina went into near-terminal decline. He argues that such a trajectory was not preordained but down to differing employment of resources and political will. Both countries, he opines, were given "similar hands" at one point in history, but played them very differently.

Continuing down this path, Beattie offers a similar type of analysis about why, for instance, abundant natural resources turn out to be a curse for some nations or why religion is no hindrance to economic progress or prowess of others. Spread over ten chapters, in this short book, the auther has picked and chosen his way through history, commerce, business practices, politics and religious texts to make his arguments. Chapter 2 (on urbanisation, especially in Latin America), Chapter 3 (on trade) and Chapter 4 (on natural resources) are the ones I particularly liked.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesnt have the answers it claims 13 Oct 2009
Clearly Alan Beattie can put together a series of anecdotes well enough, but therein lies the problem. Economists like this one have all appeared as if by magic over the past couple of years claiming to have all the answers. frankly the truth is something more along the lines of being wise after the event. Some parts of this were certainly educational and interesting to read about making this more of a starting off point than a destination. One cant help but get the feeling that the author (and others of similar pop-econ books) has cherry picked anecdotes and phrases. he does come close at times to wearing his capitalist heart on his sleeve, particularly when wheeling out the well worn cliche that government should "get out of the way".
In summary, there are points of interest here and there but this book is really far too superficial to be anything other than a light read.
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49 of 60 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing surprising in this book 22 July 2009
As axiom-based and model-driven economics met its ignominious fate, economic history jocks emerged, ready to hawk alternative (hi)stories to the bemused public. Few such products are of lasting value: and this in not one of them.

The underlying theme of the book is that economic development is path-dependent - which is another way of saying: `historical phenomenon'. Decisions are taken, and they have consequences. Once basic decisions are taken, it is difficult to reverse them. Some decisions turn out to be wise (Botswana), some foolish (Zambia or Sierra Leone). Most, however, were inadvertent. "It seemed like a good idea at the time" - most politicians criticised in the book would have answered. So what else is new? History is a heady mix of structure and contingency. Contingency dominates. Small causes can make a big difference. Nothing is pre-determined. So we cannot `learn' from Botswana's experience or, put it another way, we would not even be able to replicate it in Botswana itself if we were to rewind the tape of history and let it out again (S. J. Gould on evolution).

The economic history served up as `surprising truth' is either blandly formulated received knowledge, or superficial criticism. Take the chapter on trade: Venice and Genoa grew wealthy on trade? Well - they'd exploited beforehand their respective salt monopolies in Comacchio and Hyeres to the hilt. Florence became a banking centre? Hmm - only after a surreptitious and systematic debasing of the coin had impoverished the countryside in favour of the centre. England grew strong on overseas trade?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Jezza
Anybody who was expecting some relationship between this book and the popular anti-cuts website 'false economy' will be sadly disappointed. This is a totally unsurprising remix of economic orthodoxy (free trade is always good, you can't buck the market, government intervention will always go wrong), nicely illustrated with some very partial anecdotes from history. Although the apparent message of the book is that governments and societies have choices, the actual message is that you don't - you must always follow the 'free-market' path or it will end in tears. Economic laws have the validity of natural laws, which they resemble.

Curiously, the evidence to counter this thesis is right there in the very anecdotes that it recounts. The British economy took off in the early C18th as a result of the energy and capital input it received from slavery and dispossession. The US's role as sponsors of anti-labour violence in South America and elsewhere may have impacted on the country's reputation as the global champion of liberty. And so on.

Of course, what isn't the book is as revealing as what is. So lots about the ultimate failure of any strategies that try to buck the market. German and Scandinavian (or even French) capitalism might as well not exist. Singapore barely figures. Lots about China though, which has pursued the kind of free-market Leninism that he seems to admire - 'free markets' without a free society.

There are some enjoyable bits - I quite liked the bits about the East India Company, and the Anti-Corn Law League, but all of this is very partial. There are some obvious bloopers - Zaire wasn't 'part of the Democratic Republic of Congo', was it? And the conclusion, which is a belated attempt to introduce a bit of humility in the face of a rather obvious crisis of the global model he spends most of the book propounding, is thoroughly unconvincing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Economic history can be fun!
Somewhere between journalism and scholarship (Beattie cheerfully credits four works on which he has principally drawn), this affable book's schoolmasterly asides (Madrid is the... Read more
Published on 30 April 2012 by Simon Barrett
4.0 out of 5 stars Inside this book is a great book waiting to be written
Alan Beattie is a good writer and provides a whole list of anecdotes to back up his various propositions. Read more
Published on 19 May 2011 by LearnedViking
5.0 out of 5 stars outstanding
Wide-ranging and entertaining, even for someone, like me, who has never had much interest in history. Read more
Published on 8 April 2011 by Ken Grew
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good book
This book disects how economic policy and international trade have shaped number of major world events and societies as we know today. Read more
Published on 2 Jan 2011 by Nomad in Caledonia
3.0 out of 5 stars Please put a bit more facts on your next book.
False economy is a refreshing book with a lot of insightful view on macro history, and an excellent analogy from a global prospective with interesting analysis. Read more
Published on 4 July 2010 by MR BILL KUT
5.0 out of 5 stars Analysis of why some countries and cities get rich
This is a fabulous book that provides an analysis of why some countries and cities get prosperous while others stumble. Read more
Published on 15 Nov 2009 by Mariusz Skonieczny
5.0 out of 5 stars Counterfactually creative
This is an important book. Here's why: Beattie's insight is to show, using a deft mix of well chosen examples, that our fates are not pre-ordained, that with a slightly different... Read more
Published on 16 Sep 2009 by Alistair Kelman
4.0 out of 5 stars False Economy
Alan has written the background and his understanding of many of the influences and choices leading to the present worldwide economy. Read more
Published on 26 July 2009 by D. E. Yates
5.0 out of 5 stars Counterintuitive
An entertaining and insightful book explaining why the world is the way it is, and in particular why it isn't how we imagine it should be. Read more
Published on 24 July 2009 by Neil Bradford
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good book.
I really enjoyed this book as I'm into books that deal with business stories. Alan Beattie has presented what could have been a complex and boring analysis of contrast in the... Read more
Published on 22 July 2009 by Mr. M. D. Burton
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