23 Things they dont tell you about Capitalism by Ha Joon Chang

Ok, so this is a bit of a departure from my usual reading of a military history bent. And equally, I tend to steer clear of politics, not wanting to alienate anyone – or myself for that matter – due merely to party politics. But my brother bought me this book for Christmas as a leftfield wildcard kind of gift, and I have found reading it to be a revelation.

Since the 1980’s, and in particular the conservative economic policies of Reagan and Thatcher, free market economic policy has been an orthodoxy, not quite globally but certainly in the North Atlantic area. The philosophy is that the less you interfere and meddle in the economy, the more everything will turn out better for everyone, and income will trickly down and we will all live happily ever after.

Chang is also quite pertinent in question the manner in which the United States is always, without fail, held up as the poster boy of economic success. I cannot help but think that this is down to the historical legacy of the ‘american dream’, and a pinch of american narrow-mindedness. Whilst the US does have a strong economy, a high proportion of its wealth is distributed at the very top of its earning spectrum, whereas other countries, such as Sweden, might not have so many billionaires, but they have fewer of their citizens living in abject poverty. It all depends on exactly HOW we measure economic prosperity.

Essentially, I think Chang presents a stern critique of free-market capitalism, whilst defending capitalism itself as a broader concept. I can understand where he is coming from. I come from working class roots, and I would have to say I lean firmly to the left when it comes to equality and social justice in society, but at the same time I believe it is important to have an independent, ‘can-do’ spirit. The problem with free-market ideology, as I see it, is that when you remove all rules, the lowest common denominator wins out – ie, in crude terms, shit floats to the top. Hence the rise of the yuppy.

I was also much taken by Chang’s assertion that the Post Industrial Era is a myth. Why? Well, much of the world is still producing, ie, manufacturing. There IS still money to be made from making things, it is just that some countries chose to abandon their manufacturing industries and move towards service based economies. The Post-Industrial tag seems to be an attempt to justify the abandonment of production, if nothing else. Not that service based industries have really worked out very well for Britain anyway.

Another aspect that Chang examines very succinctly is that of the welfare state. Many argue, mostly in the US, that a bloated welfare state not only costs the country money, but encourages the lower classes to be lazy, knowing that they do not have to work too hard to survive. Yet it could be argued – Chang does, and I tend to agree – that having a welfare state means that employees are able to take more risks, knowing that if things do not work out or if their employer goes bust, they will not be on the breadlines. This is the case in most European states, whereas in the US, employees could be excused for playing it safe and protecting their jobs, as losing ones job means losing everything, due to a virtual non-existance of any kind of welfare support. This means effectively that you only get one decent shot at a career, or a business – which is hardly conducive to innovation and risk taking!

Chang’s final point is that whilst we have learnt the lessons of the 2008 crash, the credit crunch, we have yet to reform the financial industries to take into account these lessons. The credit crunch showed that free market ideology leads to irresponsible and dangerous behaviour, but the banks and stock markets have been unaffected since their disastrous actions. Why? well, one suspects that bankers and stockbrokers have enough influence to protect their interests politically, but it also shows the extent to which free market-ism is taken as a given in modern society. Perhaps it is down to the false notion that western capitalism ‘won’ the Cold War over eastern communism, and therfore must surely be superior?

In conclusion, I don’t think we can exclude politics from anything  that we discuss, in terms of history or military affairs. After all, who makes the decisions and shapes the policy? And for that matter, don’t economic forces drive defence procurement?



Filed under Book of the Week, debate, politics, Uncategorized

10 responses to “23 Things they dont tell you about Capitalism by Ha Joon Chang

  1. Brian Iddon

    Oh dear politics.I agree with you in that it’s best not to go there.I enjoy your bog very much but on politics we’re miles apart.

    • James Daly

      Hi Brian, no problem there. After all life would be boring if we all agreed all of the time! As a general rule the only politics I do is related to defence.

  2. Brian Iddon

    If only politicians would keep out of anything related to defence,ha ha.

    • James Daly

      The funny thing is, I think the principle of ploticians top-managing defence is sound, as long as the politicians have some kind of idea of what they are talking about. I guess the idea is that the politicians keep the brass hats in check, and the brass hats advise the frocks. Works well in principle but in practice its far from ideal.

  3. You may be interested in this ARRSE thread I started about UK manufacturing:


    • Brian Iddon

      Very interesting thread WEBF.Short termism is the biggest problem in the UK.Politicans are only interested in getting re elected and business people in getting their bonuses or dividens.

      We need to get away from manufacturing being seen as somehow dirty and old fashioned.We’ve got some world class engineering in this country which isn’t being exploited as well it might be.

      Until the welfare state is taken back to it’s basics it will keep dragging this country down.We’ve become fat and lazy and only interested in making a quick buck.

      Oh crap,i said i would not get into politics.Sorry.

      • James Daly

        I agree. I am not a fan of an over-bloated welfare state.If you really are down on your luck, by all means have a helping hand to get on your feet. But it shouldn’t become a lifestyle choice to live on the rock and roll.

        By the same token, I wish someone would try to drive British manufacturing and industry again. The resources are there, the workforce is there, its all waiting but simply because at one stage it wasn’t profitable, the bean counters made us close it all down. Very shortsighted.

  4. What would Sir John Harvey Jones say?

    • James Daly

      interesting guy – and someone who was sunk twice in WW2 before commanding his own sub. Ironic when you consider the military-civvie thing we’ve discussed in this post!

  5. Pingback: 23 things they didn’t tell you about Capitalism – Linking Sustainability

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