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Heat: How We Can Stop the Planet Burning
Heat: How We Can Stop the Planet Burning
by George Monbiot
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.39

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monbiot's Manifesto, 28 Sep 2010
George Monbiot's Guardian columns are always well worth reading, as was his well received and best selling book on the links between big business and the state in Britain (Captive State). "Heat", whose subject matter is global warming, is likewise a well written, and informative read, dealing with some of the issues thrown up by the dangers of climate change.

The book begins by summarising the state of scientific knowledge at the time of its initial publication in 2006, and how this bears on the reductions of greenhouse gas emissions required in a country such as ours in order to make a fair share in reducing the risk of damaging global climate change. The result appears to be a reduction of 90% by 2030. Before moving on to the important questions of how this can be achieved, Monbiot takes time out for an entertaining look at what he terms the "denial industry". Publications such as the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail seem to be the leading sites for those who are keen to rubbish climate change, among the authors he cites are leading climatologists Melanie Phillips, Peter Hitchens, and most disturbingly of all for those of us who have fond memories of him from childhood, David Bellamy. Bellamy is apparently now a campaigner who vigorously denies the possibility of climate change, some of the information cited in his Daily Mail Article ("Global Warming? What a Load of Poppycock!") came from millionaire American Lyndon Larouche's publication "21st Century Science and Technology" - other propositions that Larouche has supported over the years include the notion that the Royal Family is running an international drugs syndicate, and that Jewish bankers control the British Government. One wonders if fellow Daily Mailist Mad Mel knows about this last one? One wouldn't have thought it was amongst her favourite causes?

The main body of the text involves examining a number of sectors of the economy including housing, transport, power generation, airlines, retail and industry and looking at what could be done to meet the targets that science appears to indicate. Monbiot's aim, which some in the environmental movement may find controversial, is to look at each sector individually and work out how they could meet the targets with the minimal amount of change to their functioning, and by association to the functioning of the economy as a whole. With the exception of the airline industry, which he would drastically curtail, his proposed solutions appear to meet those criteria.

This is an interesting book that clearly brings into the public debate a serious set of proposals for limiting the possibility of climate change occurring while minimising the effects on the way we live now. No doubt climate change doubters, and those whose pecuniary interests seem to compel them to muddy the water (primarily the oil, coal and automobile industries), will scoff at Monbiot's efforts; but even if their doubts were to be taken seriously, the desirability of reducing our reliance on finite energy resources ought to be sufficient reason for making the changes, or changes that are just as effective, in reducing our output of greenhouse gasses. A book I'd well recommend to anyone with an interest in this issue, which going on the current scientific evidence, should be all of us.


From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map: Essays (Vintage)
From Oslo to Iraq and the Road Map: Essays (Vintage)
by Tony Judt
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.71

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last Words Of Edward Said, 25 Sep 2010
It is a sign of the bankruptcy of the Israel lobby that they portrayed the late Edward Said as "The Professor of Terrorism". In the real world, as will be evident to anyone who reads "From Oslo to Iraq and the Roadmap" or any other of his Palestine writings, the mans commitment to justice, equality and democracy were deep and principled, and his criticism of the "armed struggle" trenchant, angry but (and it's no doubt the "but" that earns him the above sobriquet) always qualified by where the fundamental responsibility for the violence lies: with those who have oppressed, dispossessed and humiliated the Palestinians, their society and institutions.

This book is a collection of 46 articles primarily published in the Arabic language newspapers Al-Ahram and Al-Hayat between winter 2000/01 and summer 2003 when he died. It opens with a fine introduction by historian Tony Judt, and is divided into three parts, the first of which "The Second Intifada Begins, Clinton's failure" covers the circumstances in which the Al-Aqsa intifada broke out and the realities of the Clinton administered peace process, as well as the events of the period leading up to 9/11. This is followed by "September 11, the War on Terror, the West Bank and Gaza Reinvaded" whose focus is on how the Sharon government used the Bush administrations so-called War on Terror as both rationale and cover for the increasingly brutal attack on the Palestinian people. The final section "Israel, Iraq and the United States" focuses on the growing momentum towards the US and UK (known in polite circles as "the coalition") invasion of Iraq, while keeping an eye on developments in Palestine and Israel. The book closes with a short Afterword from his son Wadie.

The articles are well written, managing to be coherent as well as angry and urgent. He is blunt and often coruscating in his criticisms whether of Arafat and Abu Mazen, or Clinton, Bush, Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington, Ariel Sharon, Saddam Hussein or Ehud Barak. There is also a personal edge including a brief mention of his illness, and examples of the methods used by the Israel lobby when they have attacked him. Despite the urgency and anger of much of the writing, Said's commitment to a real peace, as opposed to the mean, cold and triumphant one that Israel released drop by drop during the Oslo years is clear, as is his admiration for what the Palestinian people as a whole endure year after year.

A greatly missed writer and Palestinian activist who's writing, including this book, on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is always of a high calibre. A book I'd highly recommend as well as his other writing on the same subject: The Politics of Dispossession, Peace and Its Discontents and The End of the Peace Process].
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 13, 2012 11:08 PM GMT


A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics: 1943-1980 (Penguin History)
A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics: 1943-1980 (Penguin History)
by Paul Ginsborg
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.99

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Post-War Italy, 24 Sep 2010
Paul Ginsborg's "A History of Contemporary Italy" begins with the Italians reaping the disastrous rewards of over two decades of Mussolini's rule. The Allies have invaded southern Italy, and on the removal of El Duce the Germans invade from the north. The author expertly portrays the chaotic situation, with an increasingly popular Resistance in the north fighting the Germans who are themselves trying to consolidate their control and stop the Allied forces from battling their way up the peninsula towards Germany itself.

Ginsborg is particularly good on the tensions between the Resistance (largely formed of Communists) and the Allies along with the Italian government formed after Mussolini was deposed. It is clear, that as in Greece, the Allies have no intention of leaving the Italians to sort out their own political future and clearly favour the right, particularly but not exclusively those who kept their hands relatively clean during the fascist era. This goes as far as - minimally - looking the other way as the Mafia re-established themselves in Sicily.

The book is broadly sympathetic to the left in Italy but without compromising on impartially telling the story of Italy's recovery under the Christian Democrats, or the limitations of the left themselves. This reader, for one, ended up wishing that the Communists had sent their leader Togliatti back to Moscow, along with the Stalinist style structures which weighed the party down and his policy of appeasement vis-à-vis the Christian Democrats which achieved nothing.

Ginsborg's attention is focussed primarily on social, political and economic developments as they evolved during the post-war recovery and beyond. A constant authorial eye is kept on changing programs and policies of all parties whether it's the Christian Democrats in central government, or other parties at the local level, as well as the economic and the social circumstances of the country, from the industrial and relatively advanced north to the impoverished rural south. Other topics covered include developments in the working class movements, the upheavals of 1968, agrarian reform, organised crime and industrial policy. There is also a substantial amount of social, political and economic data in a statistical appendix at the end of the book.

This is a substantial work that is very well written. Ginsborg, who himself has spent a good deal of time in Italy, conveys an enormous amount of information about the changing circumstances of post-war Italy. This is frequently accompanied with first-hand accounts from all manner of people, from the world of high politics and business to the southern rural migrant in the industrial north, that leave the reader with a vivid sense of developments. If there is one problem it is that though the book claims to tell the story of Italy up until 1988, most of the detail is with regard to the period up to 1980 with a short final chapter of twenty or so pages covering the main developments in the 1980's. Otherwise this is a book I would whole heartedly recommend to anyone who is interested in Italy in particular, and more generally in how a western European country developed during the economic "golden age" up until the 1970's and how afterwards things changed . . .


From Oslo to Iraq and the Roadmap
From Oslo to Iraq and the Roadmap
by Edward W. Said
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.78

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last Words Of Edward Said, 22 Sep 2010
It is a sign of the bankruptcy of the Israel lobby that they portrayed the late Edward Said as "The Professor of Terrorism". In the real word, as will be evident to anyone who reads "From Oslo to Iraq and the Roadmap" or any other of his Palestine writings, the mans commitment to justice, equality and democracy were deep and principled, and his criticism of the "armed struggle" trenchant, angry but (and it's no doubt the "but" that earns him the above sobriquet) always qualified by where the fundamental responsibility for the violence lies: with those who have oppressed, dispossessed and humiliated the Palestinians, their society and institutions.

This book is a collection of 46 articles primarily published in the Arabic language newspapers Al-Ahram and Al-Hayat between winter 2000/01 and summer 2003 when he died. It opens with a fine introduction by historian Tony Judt, and is divided into three parts, the first of which "The Second Intifada Begins, Clinton's failure" covers the circumstances in which the Al-Aqsa intifada broke out and the realities of the Clinton administered peace process, as well as the events of the period leading up to 9/11. This is followed by "September 11, the War on Terror, the West Bank and Gaza Reinvaded" whose focus is on how the Sharon government used the Bush administrations so-called War on Terror as both rationale and cover for the increasingly brutal attack on the Palestinian people. The final section "Israel, Iraq and the United States" focuses on the growing momentum towards the US and UK (known in polite circles as "the coalition") invasion of Iraq, while keeping an eye on developments in Palestine and Israel. The book closes with a short Afterword from his son Wadie.

The articles are well written, managing to be coherent as well as angry and urgent. He is blunt and often coruscating in his criticisms whether of Arafat and Abu Mazen, or Clinton, Bush, Bernard Lewis, Samuel Huntington, Ariel Sharon, Saddam Hussein or Ehud Barak. There is also a personal edge including a brief mention of his illness, and examples of the methods used by the Israel lobby when they have attacked him. Despite the urgency and anger of much of the writing, Said's commitment to a real peace, as opposed to the mean, cold and triumphant one that Israel released drop by drop during the Oslo years is clear, as is his admiration for what the Palestinian people as a whole endure year after year.

A greatly missed writer and Palestinian activist who's writing, including this book, on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is always of a high calibre. A book I'd highly recommend as well as his other writing on the same subject: The Politics of Dispossession, Peace and Its Discontents and The End of the Peace Process].


Getting the Message: News, Truth, and Power (Communication and Society)
Getting the Message: News, Truth, and Power (Communication and Society)
by John Eldridge
Edition: Paperback
Price: 22.69

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dissecting The News, 13 Sep 2010
Glasgow University Media Group shot to prominence in the 1970's with their ground breaking studies of television news, Bad News and More Bad News, which made an attempt to see what takes place in British television news under the banner of objectivity, impartiality and neutrality. This 1993 collection "Getting the Message: News, Truth and Power" is a collection of essays from past and present members of the group that deal with television and journalism. The essays are divided into three sections, News production (how the News is made), News output (the content of the News), and News reception (how audiences watch the News).

In the first section is an interesting account of Soviet media policy (particularly in the Gorbachev era) by Brian McNair. This is followed with David Miller's investigation into the strategies and tactics of the Northern Ireland Information Office during the troubles. Greg Philo looks at how the Ethiopian Famine of the mid 1980's came to be News. The section ends with David Miller and Kevin William on the conflicting agendas and media strategies of a variety of organisations with regard to the Aids crisis of the 1980's. Though not all directly relevant to the editorial categorisation (the essay on Soviet media policy is largely a narrative account and nonetheless interesting for that), they do give the reader an insight into how organisations try, and never truly succeed in influencing the News, as well as how News Organisations make the News.

Lucinda Broadbent's essay on the British and American News coverage of Nicaragua, with particular focus on the 1984 elections, opens the second section and gives an insight into how the Regan administration's view was accepted and broadcasted by the media. Brian Winston provides a forensic examination of the CBS evening news of the 7th of April 1949, and is a fascinating, though perhaps over detailed, look at how the content and form of early television News evolved. Peter Beharrell's essay on how Aids was presented in British Newspapers fulfils a useful role as a reminder of the malevolent mendacity of the tabloid press and their allegedly upmarket cousins at The Daily Mail and the Daily Express.

The final section on how audiences receive the News opens with Greg Philo's nuanced account of research conducted with various groups with regard to how the television coverage of the Miners strike in 1984-85 affected audiences views. Jenny Kitzinger conducts similar research in relation to how newspapers and television News have affected audiences knowledge, attitudes and perceptions towards HIV and Aids. Kevin Williams finishes up with a re-examination of the medias performance during the Vietnam War that essentially de-bunks the popular conception of the antagonistic role the media played.

I was particularly impressed with the contributions by David Miller (see also A Century of Spin), Greg Philo's (see also Bad News from Israel), and Kevin Williams. The downside for me was the essays by Howard Davies and editor John Eldgridge that open and close "Getting the Message": unless the reader is a competent initiate in the world of academic sociology and its terminology they will be left - as I was - slowly struggling in the search for meaning. Otherwise this book is a fascinating insight into the world of News, one that is detailed, nuanced and attempts at an objective understanding of all the issues.


Mrs. Thatcher's Economic Experiment
Mrs. Thatcher's Economic Experiment
by William Keegan
Edition: Paperback

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Margaret, The "Mad Monk" And Monetarism, 13 Sep 2010
With our first incoming Tory administration since 1979 I didn't think it altogether pointless to re-read William Keegan's entertaining and enlightening account of the economic policies perpetrated the last time the Tories took power after a period in opposition, that of Mrs Thatcher's 1979-83 administration.

Keegan, who tells the story in a wonderfully wry prose reminiscent of J.K.Galbraith, begins with an account of the post-war consensus, in particular those whom he calls the pre-Thatcherites, namely the Tories who governed between Churchill's return to power in 1951 and Heaths fall from power in 1974. This is juxtaposed with an account of those he calls evangelists, the nascent neo-Liberals who were at the margins of the party and included Enoch Powell (occasionally), Ralph Harris of the Institute of Economic Affairs, one time Marxist now "free" market fundamentalist Alfred Sherman, and the "Mad Monk" himself, Keith Joseph. These evangelists were impressed by the memory of nineteenth century Liberalism, especially as manifested in the writings of General Pinochet's favourite guru Milton Friedman. His particular contribution to the canon of economic dogma was monetarism: the idea that inflation could be predicted by the growth in the money supply, and conversely that inflation could be restricted by restricting the growth in money supply, primarily by increasing interest rates, and reducing public borrowing.

In the post Bretton Woods era, with its oil shortages and high inflation, the ideas of this group including that of monetarism, came into favour and not just within sections of the Tory party. Increasing numbers of the great and the good including Jim Callaghan's nephew and economics editor of the Times Peter Jay, and the Financial Times Samuel Brittan became converts. So did one of the leadership candidates in the contest to replace Heath after he lost not one but two elections in 1974. She was Margaret Thatcher, she won the leadership, and she went on to win the next general election in 1979, and the rest (including a large part of the industrial sector) is history.

The main part of "Mrs Thatcher's Economic Experiment" covers her first term in office, the - as he sees it - disastrous first budget that was blatantly inflationary and was accompanied by the implementation of a monetarist economic policy that included the raising of interest rates and the cutting of public spending at a rate that has not been seen in Britain since the Geddes axe fell just after the Great War, and wont be seen again until . . . well, probably next month. Keegan is excellent on the personalities, especially Thatcher's stubbornness regardless of events, as well as the evolutions of policy, and their effects on Britains economy: the loss of 20% of manufacturing, the wild swings in the exchange rate, debilitating interest rate rises, and the inexorable rise of unemployment until it reached well over three million. The book ends with a chapter simply called "Why?" which tries to explain why Thatcher got away with it.

This is an erudite, readable account of the era and its economics, and one that grips the reader on a number of levels, including the political with it's personalities, the evolution of economic ideas, how they translate into policies, and how the policies effect reality. Written in 1984, it is not the last word on Thatcher as it evolved in her second and third terms before culminating in the poll tax fiasco, but it does make an interesting read as an interim report on the Thatcher phenomena, especially as it related to economic policy. And given the current lot of Tories in power, and their evangelistic attitude to economic policy, though this time to deficit reduction no matter what, it is perhaps also useful as a cautionary tale, at least for the general population of the country, one suspects that those in power know damn well what they are up to.


The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives
The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives
by Gilbert Achcar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 21.70

19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Zionism, the Arabs, Facism and Nazi Germany, 12 Aug 2010
In "Arabs and the Holocaust" Gilbert Achcar (co-debator with Noam Chomsky in Perilous Power) has cut through many of the myths, exaggerations, and down right nonsense that surrounds the debate about Arab attitudes towards Nazi Germany and the persecution and eventual genocide of European Jews between 1933 and 1945.

Much of the writing on this subject by supporters of Israel focuses on those Arabs who dallied at one or another rhetorical level with Facism, or on those such as the pernicious buffoon Amin al-Husseini, the British declared Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who spent the War in Rome and Berlin, and whose importance as a historical figure is entirely disproportionate to the enormous literature on him, including one encyclopaedia of the Holocaust where his entry is second to, and only marginally shorter than, that of Hitler. Achcar doesn't avoid these issues and writes critically on them, but keeps his sense of proportion and puts them into their historical context.

He also covers the bigger picture on Arab attitudes to the Nazis in general, and the persecution of Jews by the Nazi regime in particular. Within a number of broad categories (Marxist, Liberal, Nationalist and Religious) he identifies a substantial amount of writing that is highly critical of the Nazi Regime. For Marxists this was complete, with the exception of the political gymnastics required for the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of August 1939 to June 1941, and even then there were a number of Arab Marxists who were deeply critical of that development. Again, for Liberals who were sympathetic to Western secular values, though critical of their imperialist practices, the hostility and critical attitude to the Nazi Regime was almost total. The attitudes of the religious and nationalistic Arabs covered a broader spectrum, from hostility to sympathy. For the Palestinians who were on the sharp end of the Zionists quest for land to build the Jewish State, the reaction was not surprisingly - but again far from uniform - more sympathetic to the Nazis anti-Semitism.

The thorny issue of Zionist-Nazi contacts is dealt with, Achcar deeming them to be tactical arrangements by the Zionists to further their cause. The issue of how Zionists dealt with the threat to Jews in Europe during the 1930's is also given some coverage, and it becomes clear that the attitudes and actions of Zionism, and it's international supporters in Europe and the US, were tilted towards their own goals rather than the saving of as many Jews as possible from the increasing horrors of the Nazi regime.

"The Arabs and the Holocaust" is a mine of information that covers much more than the issues mentioned above including the growth of Arab anti-Semitism, the actual role of Arabs in the fighting during WW2 (a tiny proportion of Arabs who fought in WW2 fought on the Axis side; 1500 Arabs ended up in concentration camps), the Zionist discourse on the Nakba, as well as pro-Zionist writings on the Arabs and Nazism. As a work of scholarship it is exceptionally clearly written despite being dense with detail. Achcars principled and impartial examination of a wide range of issues is a breath of fresh air in a field where much pernicious and partisan nonsense has all too often prevailed. A book I'd whole-heartedly recommend.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 26, 2012 4:08 PM GMT


Last Post: The End of Empire in the Far East
Last Post: The End of Empire in the Far East
by John Keay
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Much Hilarity!, 12 Aug 2010
John Keay has built up a reputation for writing a series of singular narrative histories dealing with Asia in relation to European imperialism as in this book or his history of the British East India Company (The Honourable Company), as well as more general histories of individual countries (China and India). His books have formed, for me at least, an excellent introduction into the history of the East, and been a starting point for further enquiry into their variety of pasts.

Keay begins with a number of concise accounts of how the Empires that were to be lost were gained in the first place, before moving onto the end of formal imperialism in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, ending up with the handing over of Hong Kong to China. His narrative gives the main facts, as well as a good deal of detail that is strongly flavoured by Keays keen eye for the oddities of Empire. He perhaps over indulges his interest in such characters as James Innes who complains of having "no time to read his bible" while smuggling opium into Fukien; or the Commissioner of Weihaiwei who shares his office with a number of imaginary friends including the "outrageous and improper" Mrs Walkinshaw, the Earl of Dumbarton, and (most intriguingly) "The Trouserless one". History no doubt has its funny moments, and its funny characters, but these anecdotes are just the tip of the iceberg as Keay wrings out the laughs at a furious rate, some of them are very funny, though there is an occasional flop. I ended up longing for a few pages of sober narrative and analysis; the history of the end of Empire in the Far East was after all no joke for many of those concerned.

One of the strengths of Keays book is the broad coverage of the French, American, and particularly the Dutch, and their Empires in the East, as well as the Japanese "co-prosperity sphere" of 1941-45. When I first read "Last Post" a number of years ago, I had little knowledge of the Dutch in Indonesia, nor of the brutal British attack on the town of Surabaya after WW2, nor of the use of Japanese troops in support of re-Imperialising the East in the same period, and the book awakened a curiosity regarding European Imperialism in the Far East. Re-reading it now, and while still appreciating the scope of the events related, I felt disappointed in the quality of Keays accompanying analysis which can be a bit slap dash, especially with regard to the French then American involvement in Vietnam.

In short, this isn't a bad place for a reader unfamiliar with the subject to start, if they can get through the relentless word-play, the excess of eccentrics, and the torrent of humour (which to be fair can raise a smile but ought to have been rationed) they will get a good general overview of events, accompanied with some less than spectacular analysis of what was going on. For the reader who has read a good deal of the subject already, Keays "Last Post" maybe a little beyond the joke, its certainly not his best work.


Albion's People: English Society, 1714-1815, [Social and Economic History of England]
Albion's People: English Society, 1714-1815, [Social and Economic History of England]
by John Rule
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The English Peoples Eighteenth Century, 29 July 2010
"Albion's People: English Society 1714-1815" is the companion volume to John Rule's The Vital Century: England's Developing Economy, 1714-1815. While the latter volume deals with the economic side of England from the Hanoverian succession to Waterloo, this volume charts the social changes for the same period.

Rule begins by filling in the reader on the bigger picture by detailing demographic developments, the growing urbanisation, the relationship between power and law, as well as considering what historians call the "consumer revolution". The main body of the book is structured into a consideration of the three main classes: (i) The Upper Class, (ii) The Middling People, and (iii) The Lower Orders. The changes and continuities, including religious, cultural, political, and economic of each of these classes is explored at some length, and the differences within the classes are explored as much as those between.

There is also a detailed consideration of one of the thornier questions of the period, in particular for the last forty or so years of it, that of the standard of living, which is - unsurprisingly - especially relevant to the third of Rule's classes. Beyond that there is a fascinating chapter on Social and Industrial Protest that covers food riots, industrial protest, machine breaking (ie. Luddism), and the frequent disorders in London including those related to "Wilkes and Liberty" and the Gordon Riots of 1780. This chapter naturally leads to the final one on "Crime and Punishment".

"Albion's People" is an excellent work of synthesis that combines a great deal of excellent and diverse scholarship into a coherent and balanced view of England's eighteenth century social history. Though an unashamedly academic work it is also readable, and Rule combines the scholarship with ample first hand accounts from the period that lighten and provide colour to the text that otherwise, especially with the plentiful supply of statistics and figures, might be off putting to the general reader. If there is a shortcoming in the book it is the parochial focus, I'd have thought a chapter on the English overseas in India, the West Indies, North America, etc would have been warranted. That quibble to one side, this is a very good piece of history, that along with its companion volume The Vital Century provide a detailed account of England's eighteenth century.


Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy
Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy
by Joseph Stiglitz
Edition: Hardcover

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Free Market Failure, 27 July 2010
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Joseph Stiglitz has made the transition from being at the centre of one of the main institutions of the Washington Consensus, to a principled opponent of these very same institutions, and the current "free" market orthodoxy which still tenaciously holds it grip on economic thinking at the global and national level. In "Freefall" he looks at the current economic debacle, how it happened, its origins, the inadequate response, as well as speculating on what might get us out of this awful mess. His focus is almost wholly on the US experience with only occasional sideway glances at events in Europe and across the globe.

The narrative of the events, and processes, that led to the credit crunch are put before the reader in a concise and comprehensive manner, including the variety of complex financial innovations that contributed to the crash. Stiglitz then looks at the Bush and the Obama administrations, he is fairly scathing about the latter, in particular regarding his economic team, almost all of them have played a part in getting the US economy into its current state. Unsurprisingly he finds their responses to be inadequate, and primarily focused at preserving financial institutions that have failed, and a policy environment that has failed, at the expense of the majority of the US population (he calls the bank rescue program "The Great American Robbery"). Stiglitz appears to favour some sort of bankruptcy proceeding for banks, as well as legislating for a return to the separation of commercial banks from investment banks, amongst other measures.

Next Stiglitz looks at the mortgage industry, particularly the sub-prime segment of it. The details of the practice of this industry in the US (and even in the UK where 42% of mortgages applications are apparently still self-certified) is enough to make the jaw drop of even the most cynical of readers. This is followed with a more general appraisal of Americas position with rising public debt, it's relationship with China, and a still dysfunctional financial sector.

One of the more interesting chapters is Stiglitz look at the rise and failure of the free-market economics: one still awaits its fall or it being reduced to its proper place. Issues highlighted include persistent failure to deal with reality as opposed to the asinine assumptions it makes regarding it, the poor record it has regarding growth, and its failure to improve the circumstances of the American population (US GDP grew by 10% between 2000 and 2008, median household income fell by 4%!). The final chapter "Towards a New Society" steps back from the crisis and looks at how we can begin to move towards a society that works for the majority of the population, rather than one run in the interests of the few.

A stimulating read, that packs a surprising amount of narrative, analysis and thinking into 300 pages. One shortcoming is that despite being fully referenced the book omits an index. I assume this will be rectified when "Freefall" is published in paperback? A book that I would have no problems recommending to anyone interested in how the economic crisis came about, the resulting response, it's roots, as well as some more fundamental thinking on the whole debacle.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 14, 2011 10:23 PM BST


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