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False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World Hardcover – 4 Jun 2009


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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: 16.2 x 3.2 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 521,699 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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Gaurav Sharma VINE VOICE on 13 Oct. 2009
Format: Hardcover
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jezza on 12 Jan. 2012
Format: Paperback
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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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By RMTooting on 13 Oct. 2009
Format: Hardcover
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By LearnedViking on 19 May 2011
Format: Paperback
Alan Beattie is a good writer and provides a whole list of anecdotes to back up his various propositions. This is not a scholarly work, but a light read about many of the economic and historical events and issues of the global economy.

It can be a very dry subject, and Mr Beattie has made a good attempt to make the subject readable. However, I would only lend this book to my students with the warning that there is a lot missing here, and probably ask them to read Fernand Braudel's A History of Civilizations as an alternative viewpoint.

A couple of observations:
1) Despite the title, it is not an economic history of the world
2) There are some statements made which are clearly half-baked ( resources & culture do not determine history )

Mr Beattie, if you are reading this, please write another book which re-addresses these issues in more detail. However for this very readable effort you get 4/5.
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