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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Economics: the question to all our answers, not vice versa
I am still reading this book and greatly enjoying it. King is pleasingly erudite and his evident fondness for classical economics and "political economy" over the increasingly dismal science of the postwar era will engage anyone who enjoyed eg Paul Ormerod's "The Death of Economics."

Of course, I don't agree with everything he says: I dare say I try to be more...
Published on 20 May 2010 by Hall Pycroft

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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Convinced
I was disappointed by this volume. It strings together many different - and often seemingly unconnected points - ranging from the decline of sixteenth century Spain to demographic trends across the 21st century world, without assembling more than a handful of statistics for any of them, or examining these issues in any depth. Many topics have been covered better and in...
Published on 17 Aug 2010 by Magellan


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Economics: the question to all our answers, not vice versa, 20 May 2010
By 
I am still reading this book and greatly enjoying it. King is pleasingly erudite and his evident fondness for classical economics and "political economy" over the increasingly dismal science of the postwar era will engage anyone who enjoyed eg Paul Ormerod's "The Death of Economics."

Of course, I don't agree with everything he says: I dare say I try to be more of a "rational optimist" (to borrow from the title of Matt Ridley's new book) than King does and I think the chances are reasonably good that technology does more to offset increasing competition for scarce resources (engendered by emerging market growth) than he allows for.

But it's always refreshing and helpful to listen to people whose views are not in line with your own, and Losing Control is thus far doing an excellent job. The rather mean-spirited (might that be catty?) review in The Economist to my mind missed the point. Yes King is better at highlighting problems than proposing solutions. But isn't that what economists ought to be paid for? To misquote Rowan Williams, "economics is the question to all our answers, not the answer to all our questions." In a world that prizes second-rate answers above first-rate questions, I would rather have half a dozen of the latter than almost any quantity of the former. Well done Mr King.

Dreadful cover artwork mind; tell your publishers.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From west to east, 8 Jun 2010
By 
A. M. Geake (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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Stephen King's book is a timely reminder as we emerge from the frying pan of global recession into long term fire of austerity, that it is no longer possible for countries to act from an economic point of view, unilaterally. His book provides an interesting overview of the history of capitalism and in particular how events in Eastern Europe in the late 80's and decisions made in China towards the end of the 70's, have impacted the global economy. Mr King uses plenty of straightforward analogies to explain core economic principles, and thus avoids a text tedious with economic theory and language. The book highlights the dilemmas that face not only Mr Obama's administration but those of the Cameron-Clegg government. But it is indeed the US, that could end up being the longer term loser. That being said, the book highlights the assured mutually destructive nature of the Chinese-US economic union...they both need each other. A great read and for someone who missed out on Economics in school, a useful introduction to the subject.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ihrem Ende eilen sie zu?, 7 May 2010
By 
Roderick Blyth (Oxfordshire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
In the year 1776, the historian Edward Gibbon wrote'If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus' (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Everymans Library (1910, 1993, Vol I, Ch.iii, p.90 - the period in question comprises of just over 80 years - between 98AD and 180AD).

Gibbon defined the world by reference to a Europe which was, for him, the sole index of civilisation, and by reference to the narrow class that presided over it, but, from the Western perspective at least, it is possible to argue that the period between the succession of Harold MacMillan and that of Gordon Brown (1956 - 2007 - a little over 50 years)might compete with the heyday of the Antonines, and that it has a universal dimension of which the pessimistic historian did not dream: consider, if you will, the foundation in Western Europe of social systems supporting the nation's sick and unemployed; the provision of state education, subsidised housing, complete with working plumbing, sanitation and central heating; the rise of the supermarket and the megastore; the general availability of mass transport, personal entertainment technology... and, er, easy credit.

What did we do deserve it?

Well, not much: the achievement was that of our energetic, industrious, and bloody-minded forbears: they were in there first; they got a head start; they trashed the opposition; and they got the rest of the world in an economic headlock What the post-war generation discovered was that you could exploit resources without the trouble and expense of physically possessing them: we were the only, and if not the only, certainly among the most powerful players in the global commodity and food markets.

The argument of this lucid and cogently argued book by Stephen King, HSBC's Group Chief Economist and Global Head of Economics and Asset Allocation Research is that the ground is shifting under our feet.

I'm no economist,but the great virtue of Mr King's book is that you feel, while reading it, that you don't have to be: many of us have been asking ourselves for years how it was that The UK seemed to be getting richer and richer whilst producing less and less, and the catastrophic events of the last 18 months have provided us with the beginnings of an answer: the banks may have been lending, but it hasn't just been them that's been doing the borrowing - the euphoria of the Blair years was mostly down to unrestrained borrowing and spending.

Mr King argument runs as follows: in pursuit of cheap labour and bigger profits the West has exported its technologies and outsourced industrial production to emerging economies - notably China and India. In consequence, the West earns less and less but aspires to consume, and, through its governments, to bestow upon itself, more and more. In addition, the West thinks to bridge the impossible gulf between production and provision by borrowing from the very economies on which it depends, and issuing them with paper securities in return. The finite volume of food, energy and commodities means that their price increases with demand - and the money to pay for them has to be found from somewhere.

A number of experts thought that the West could create a virtuous circle in which its investments in the emerging world and a consequent proliferation of world trade increaseed the power and prosperity of the developed economies - but that hasn't really happenned: the populations of the emerging economies save, but they don't buy - or not nearly enough - and there have, says Mr.King been more losers in the West then there have been winners: workers have seen their jobs go east, and the returns made by investors in emerging markets have proved less impressive, and more unstable than was expected: hence growing inequalities of wealth, particularly in the USA and the UK, despite the fact that the UK, at least, has had a socialist government for 13 years.

And then, if more were needed, Western Europe has an ageing population which is expecting, in its retirement, to be provided for through pensions subsidised by tax exacted from a declining workforce, or through investments in economies that have interests of their own and are perfectly alert to the by no means unrealistic possibility that there may be more rewarding markets elsewhere than in the West. Russia, China, India and Brazil are creating economic links and systems that threaten the established patterns that underlay western trade dominance, and their populations increasingly look towards living standards that the West has long enjoyed at other people's expense. The West's commodity dependence opens up interesting possibilities for regimes not known for their historical restraint or charitable instincts.

Mr King suggests that the central banks misconstrue the realities and strut about in a fiction that the stable prices which probably owe to prevailing global conditions can be attributed to their sage manipulation of national interest rates. Politicians promise ever increasing standards of health, education and material well-being, instead of seeking to rein in expectations. The media are to, a large extent, uncomprehending, self-deluding or complicit. The general population, who have been encouraged by banks, mortgage companies, politicians and their own gullibility, now look around for someone to blame.

Meanwhile the growing wealth of emerging economies and sovereign wealth funds finds few outlets of investment in the West; becomes increasingly impatient with a weakening dollar; meditates upon an alternative reserve currency or trade grouping; and snakes increasingly into investments which will, in the long term, control sources of food, energy, and commodities which have hithertoo underwritten the unseasonal luxuries of the developed nations.

What is to be done about it all?

Mr King's call is for a civilised, and somewhat counter-intuitive response involving the acceptance of a relative decline in the international and economic standing of the West in general, and of the USA and the UK in particular; a proper recognition of the just and reasonable aspirations to even a modest level of comfort in the population of the world at large; a preparation for a stagnation, if not a decline, in our material standards of living; an openess to immigration (which, he daringly advances, contributes in real terms to the nation's productive wealth and not, as the marginally paranoid allege, the number of its parasitic dependents - who are, in fact, mostly home grown); and a restraint on the part of main stream politicians in the face of populist, uninformed, and unrealistic pressure. the alternative, as he sees it, would be a narrow protectionism which would contribute to stagnation and not avoid it.

All very sensible - and yet yet the West's democratic instincts are not only populist, protectionist, and conditioned by a culture impatient of self - let alone imposed - restraint but manipulated by a sensationalising and and self-indulgent media. Hereto, societies with little in the way of the traditions of human rights -which derive ultimately from christian patterns of reason and morality - may be more strongly placed to cope with emerging social pressures than the West.

Of course all predictions of the future are notoriously falsifiable, and Mr King gives ample evidence of them - think how transitory have proved the reputations of Alan Greenspan and Gordon Brown for economic omniscience, unassailable judgment, and fiscal virtue. And we may well wonder what will happen in the great emerging economies as social tensions make themselves felt, the new middle classes seek to put their hands on the levers of power, and rural populations get a sniff of the standards of living enjoyed by their manufacturing fellow countrymen. A look at the pressures released by changes in the balance of power as the West moved from agricultural to industrial status hardly suggests an untroubled future.

This is a first rate and compellingly-argued book which sets out a powerful prima facie case.

Who will answer it?
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Convinced, 17 Aug 2010
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I was disappointed by this volume. It strings together many different - and often seemingly unconnected points - ranging from the decline of sixteenth century Spain to demographic trends across the 21st century world, without assembling more than a handful of statistics for any of them, or examining these issues in any depth. Many topics have been covered better and in greater depth in occasional articles in the Financial Times.

Complex social and historical processes such as the integration of the world economy under the European empires of the 19th and 20th centruries are reduced to crude and simplistic narratives about "rigging markets" and "plundering virgin territories", which do little to illuminate these issues for the reader or shed light on today's world.

The analysis is rather unbalanced - there is little discussion of the potential strengths enjoyed by the developed world, or the (huge) problems likely to be faced by the emerging powers as they trash their environments and fail to evolve stable political and social structures.

The author talks about the insufficiency of pure quantitative economics and advocates a return to 'political economy', but there is little effort to actually achieve this in this volume, there is no substantial social, political or historical context offered for the economic developments Mr King describes.

Worst of all, the reader can't help but detect a smug and complacent ambivalence, or even a favouritism - perhaps shared by HSBC, his employer - towards the development model pioneered by the P.R. China ("the envy of the world" in the words of Michael Geoghegan, HSBC CEO) and subsequently refined by their friends in North Korea, Myanmar, Iran and Uzbekistan.

The scientific, social, economic and intellectual achievements of Japan and the West are dismissed as merely the ill-gotten spoil of 'rent-seeking workers in the developed world', yet without copying and often stealing the intellectual property of our societies, and without the investment foreign corporations have provided, China would still be the famine-stricken basket case it was 50 years ago.

The book ends with a slight discussion, lasting for no more than a handful of brief pages, of the possible choices open to the developed world. Like many academic or professional economists, safe and sound in tenured university posts or lucrative positions in the major banks, the author expresses the pious hope that western governments will not seek to protect ordinary citizens, and maintain their faith in the tenets of the free trade gospel.

The author deplores the possibility that the US and the EU could - as Japan has done in recent years, not without some success - turn inwards, embrace a slower rate of growth, and focus on developing their own peoples and societies. There is a vague comment about the populist Smoot-Hawley Trade Tariff being enacted against the views of economists in the 1930s, with the inference that the academic views of those in Finance should trump all else. So thats that argument settled then. After all, we are only their constituents - why listen to us? Clearly, the overriding priority for the EU, the US and Japan should be to maintain employment and social stability in China.

You get the feeling the author thinks that the security of east Asia, and the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca, are safer in the hands of Pyongyang and Beijing than they are in the hands of Washington. Is this not a little naive?

How can the West accept a diminshed role in world affairs - as the author recommends - when its competitors are generally criminal and corrupt dictatorships that see nothing amiss in a regime starving its own people on a massive scale (North Korea), let alone acknowledge their wider international responsibilities to promote good governance and cooperation across the world.

I'm not an economist or a historian but I thought this book was pretty poor.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Salutary Warning About Our Future, 20 Jun 2013
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Stephen D King is a man deeply immersed in his world and very well informed at a global level. Our politicians will not thank him for this book because it shows them to be constantly lying to us about the true state of our economy and pretending to be in control of it. However the rest of us pragmatists should be grateful for the warning and advice he offers. He says that he is not optimistic about the future of his children in the UK and that is a bleak and honest statement we should all heed. The future is not bright.
He has made a difficult subject more accessible for us all. The subject tests his writing skills but he has risen to the challenge very well. I have his newer book "When The Money Runs Out" waiting in the wings and can hardly wait to read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stephen D (!) King tells us an inconvenient truth ..., 11 Feb 2011
By 
M. Woischneck (Köln) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Stephen King - no, not the master of horror tales, but the chief economist of HSBC - tells us a story of the west s decline - and why it makes sense.
How it is embedded in historical patterns and why it s now the time for others to divide more of the worls s wealth amongst them.
This is not a book about stock exchange gloom and doom - it s an realistic evaluation of where we stand in the world, in world economic history at this point in time and why we do not have to be afraid of the Chinese or any other nation for that matter.

michael
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Prophecy of Doom from the Other Stephen King, 14 Oct 2010
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
The global economist Stephen King has produced an analysis of "the emerging threats to western prosperity" that is clear, readable yet ultimately more chilling than a thriller from his namesake.

King may be doing no more than bring together the information which can be deduced from regular reading of daily broadsheets, but it is thought-provoking to have the evidence for our inevitable terminal decline set out in one place. Writing from the viewpoint of a "westerner", we are in a Catch-22 position: we need the rising economies of the east, most recently China and India, as areas for new productive investment, sources of capital for us to borrow in turn, sources of labour as our own working populations decline. Yet, at the same time, the swamping effect of the Chinese surpluses invested in US bond markets destabilises our financial system. Increasing earnings and rising expectations create intense competition for scarce resources of energy etc. In the bargaining process, what is to prevent, say Russia, from making gas deals with the east rather than the west? Just as old eastern empires declined and the west "succeeded" because it was flexible and entrepreneurial, the tables may now be turned back again. Retreat into a protectionist bunker, such as the formation of "The Independent EU", is a sterile solution, as we should know from the US attempts at protectionism which exacerbated the World Depression of the 1920s-30s. Our complacent assumption of being in a permanently superior position cannot last.

There is already evidence of the truth of King's predictions of increasing internal unrest, as say, "the Tea Party" in the US provides an example of economic nationalism in what is likely to be a futile effort to stem the changing balance of world power.

In reading this book , one is frustrated again by the short-termist attitude of our political leaders, who persist in the fallacy that continual growth is possible and "fiddle while Rome burns" by encouraging us to focus on immediate relatively minor issues and "scandals" rather than face up to the "bigger picture" long-term.

Although King is good at painting this picture, and certainly covers a wide range of interconnected political and social aspects as well as the economic, there is the odd occasion when he forgets to explain the basics for a lay reader (e.g. the operation of the US bond market - very important since developing countries invest so much of their surplus wealth in currently "safe" US bonds). The small number of diagrams included do not shed much light (e.g. p. 69 of hardback) and the book becomes rather repetitive, even rambling, after a while, as though a very busy man has thrown it together in a hurry.

His solutions also appear a little thin. Suggestions for e.g. a small number of major financial power blocs rather than reliance on the US dollar is interesting, but the suggested common currency for China and Japan sounds a bit Utopian! He fudges the issue of increased migration into areas like Britain to offset the "demographic deficit", saying that "it is not time to close borders", without addressing the counterarguments adequately. I was left with the depressed conclusion that King has no real answer for "coping with the West's diminished status" apart from accepting it with an air of defeatism. It may be indefensible for the West to have obtained its unfair advantage in the first place but, having identified the problem of our inevitable decline, one could wish that "experts" could come up with better strategies for how the decline might be managed.

At least this book enables us to understand more coherently what is in store for us in terms of a permanently reduced standard of living, with increased inequality within countries, not least for the growing numbers of pensioners reliant on declining savings.....
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4.0 out of 5 stars Alarmed people without an economics background (ie, me) will ..., 12 Oct 2014
By 
D. SWATMAN (UK) - See all my reviews
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Alarmed people without an economics background (ie, me) will find some of this hard work indeed. The message, though, is in the title and it comes across loud and clear. I was hoping the author would offer some possible way out in the final reel, but he's too honest to do that. If this is insufficiently scary, try his later work 'When The Money Runs Out.'
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5.0 out of 5 stars ... If you like Awesome, you wanna read this., 16 May 2014
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Losing Control was incredibly good, I read it in a short space of time because I couldn't stop. It has all the right amount of facts and interesting ideas. It's pure unadulterated economics fun.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, 9 May 2014
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Another great book from Stephen King. Thought provoking and addresses the real emerging threats to the western economies. Worth a read.
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