From the publishers of New Internationalist comes this collection of writing entitled "People First Economics" which takes an alternative look at the recent troubles in the global economy. The contributors are a mixed group, including some I've never heard of, to well known names such as Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Barbara Ehrenreich and Susan George. The quality of the writing is likewise decidedly mixed; some pieces are excellent, others can only be classified as truly awful.
The contributions from the "big" names are generally short and interesting, as far as they go, which isn't particularly far. Klein casts a wary eye over the rescue plans pushed by various governments and international institutions; Chomsky in an interview format gives some historical context and food for thought; Susan George contemplates possible Keynesian responses as well as the global environment. All well and good, but those three pieces total about twenty out of the two-hundred odd pages the book extends to.
There are some excellent contributions including Kate Pickett and Richard Williamson's short (again!) piece that gives the reader a taste of the arguments contained in their book The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better For Everyone. That convinced me to get my hands on a copy. Derek Wall in his "Open Source Anti-Capitalism" looks at collective possibilities for disentangling ourselves from an over commodified world. Perhaps the most interesting contribution was Peter Walker's, which provides a succinct and no-nonsense guide to the global financial system and it's failures.
Along side those contributions are some pretty poor efforts, including a positively cranky Michael Albert being interviewed about an ideas he has been promoting with regard to what he calls "a participatory economy". All well and good, except he keeps referring to it as "Parecon", talks about it in awed religious tones, and about dividing the day up into four hour parts: one for working, one for . . . I can't even remember now. . . dusting? hoovering? Another contribution to avoid is Danny Chivers effort on climate change that starts with the sentence "Imagine ten rabbits lost at sea, in a boat carved out of a giant carrot." Eh, well . . . . . Not today Danny. The piece itself is about the options for dealing with climate change, the information in it is not unreasonable. Unfortunately the tone is overly smug, smarmy and frankly embarrassing.
The two editors should have had the courage, and respect for their any readers, to cut out half a dozen or so of the contributions which irritated rather than informed and detracted from the good writing in this collection. In my case I was lucky to borrow it from the library, I certainly wouldn't recommend purchasing it.