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False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
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?Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Somewhere between journalism and scholarship (Beattie cheerfully credits four works on which he has principally drawn), this affable book's schoolmasterly asides (Madrid is the... Read morePublished on 30 April 2012 by Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso'
Anybody who was expecting some relationship between this book and the popular anti-cuts website 'false economy' will be sadly disappointed. Read morePublished on 12 Jan. 2012 by Jezza
Alan Beattie is a good writer and provides a whole list of anecdotes to back up his various propositions. Read morePublished on 19 May 2011 by LearnedViking
Wide-ranging and entertaining, even for someone, like me, who has never had much interest in history. Read morePublished on 8 April 2011 by Ken Grew
This book disects how economic policy and international trade have shaped number of major world events and societies as we know today. Read morePublished on 2 Jan. 2011 by Nomad in Caledonia
False economy is a refreshing book with a lot of insightful view on macro history, and an excellent analogy from a global prospective with interesting analysis. Read morePublished on 4 July 2010 by MR BILL KUT
This is a fabulous book that provides an analysis of why some countries and cities get prosperous while others stumble. Read morePublished on 15 Nov. 2009 by Mariusz Skonieczny
This is an important book. Here's why: Beattie's insight is to show, using a deft mix of well chosen examples, that our fates are not pre-ordained, that with a slightly different... Read morePublished on 16 Sept. 2009 by Alistair Kelman
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