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False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World by [Beattie, Alan]
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False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World Kindle Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Length: 321 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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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.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2236 KB
  • Print Length: 321 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1594488665
  • Publisher: Penguin (4 Jun. 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RI9WXE
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #183,729 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Format: Hardcover
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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book in hopes of finding something similar to "Freakonomics" to read. However, this book was different - and in a good way. I read this right after I finished "Wealth and Poverty of Nations" (WPN) by David Landes. It was not intentional but I am so glad I did given its many parallels.

The topic of this book is essentially to look at how economies develop, not from a chronological perspective, but rather from a perspective of underlying drivers and reasons. In fact, this book doesn't delve into rationalising why one country (or region) is successful over another - except in the first chapter about Argentina and USA that introduces the thesis of choice. Rather it looks at the framework as well as key elements that make a society/economy. Within each chapter, the author jumps around history to give poignant examples and to provide colour on a particular point.

This book tackles many of the same issues as WPN. However, where as Landes left me a bit uncomfortable with the assertion that culture determined a country's outcome in terms of its "wealth" and development level, Beattie took much more of a middle ground that I could stomach. Like Landes he concedes the importance of the "starting point" - e.g., geography or natural resource endowments. The thesis that I find more aggreable is that Beattie argues the importance of early decisions that countries make and the stickiness of those decisions (sort of reminded me of "momentum theory" in finance). To illustrate and guide his point he give a bunch of different areas where those decisions matter (e.g., formation of cities, trade, religion, etc.).

The text itself I found extremely readable.
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