23 Things They Don't Tell You about Capitalism

  • by Ha-Joon Chang
  • Narrated by Joe Barrett
  • 8 hrs and 58 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Thing 1: There is no such thing as the free market.
Thing 4: The washing machine has changed the world more than the Internet.
Thing 5: Assume the worst about people, and you get the worst.
Thing 13: Making rich people richer doesn't make the rest of us richer.
If you've wondered how we did not see the economic collapse coming, Ha-Joon Chang knows the answer: We didn't ask what they didn't tell us about capitalism. This is a lighthearted book with a serious purpose: to question the assumptions behind the dogma and sheer hype that the dominant school of neoliberal economists - the apostles of the freemarket - have spun since the Age of Reagan.
Chang, the author of the international best seller Bad Samaritans, is one of the world's most respected economists, a voice of sanity - and wit - in the tradition of John Kenneth Galbraith and Joseph Stiglitz.
23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism equips listeners with an understanding of how global capitalism works - and doesn't. In his final chapter, "How to Rebuild the World", Chang offers a vision of how we can shape capitalism to humane ends, instead of becoming slaves of the market.
Ha-Joon Chang teaches in the Faculty of Economics at the University of Cambridge. His books include the best-selling Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. His Kicking Away the Ladder received the 2003 Myrdal Prize, and, in 2005, Chang was awarded the Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

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What the Critics Say

"Shaking Economics 101 assumptions to the core … Eminently accessible, with a clearly liberal (or at least anticonservative) bent, but with surprises along the way—for one, the thought that markets need to become less rather than more efficient." (Kirkus Reviews)
"An advocate of big, active government and capitalism as distinct from a free market, Chang presents an enlightening précis of modern economic thought - and all the places it's gone wrong, urging us to act in order to completely rebuild the world economy: 'This will make some readers uncomfortable... it is time to get uncomfortable.'" (Publishers Weekly)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A shallow and destructive book


This book contains some interesting anecdotes, if you can keep your blood pressure down. I only made it half way through. The only way in which I could recommend this work is as an example of everything that's wrong with political and economic discourse. It's not actually a book on economics by any stretch of the imagination. It is an overtly political book, which sets up a straw man in the form of "free market economists" and proceeds, impotently, to attempt to knock it down. Here is a summary of my reasons for hating it:

- It argues against people, not ideas. For example, it argues that opposing protectionism is an invalid opinion because several illustrious American politicians were in favor of it. It then counters the perceived "counter-argument" that Jefferson was for free trade by stating that he was also against patents, which makes him inconsistent with other free market economists. No discussion of the actual merits of free trade seems to be present here.

- It throws around lots of statistics about prices, wage rates, per capita income, and so on very carelessly. No specification is ever even given as to whether the figures are real or nominal ones.

- The book assumes a great deal about the reader. For example, it seems to pander to an audience that desires secure jobs with as little variation in work responsibilities as possible. The book repeatedly characterizes changing jobs often, working part time, or working harder as bad, with no explanation as to why it makes these assumptions.

- Many arguments are not arguments at all, and are easily debunked via reductio ad absurdum. Of course the author seems to be attempting to weasel out of this trap by not presenting any concrete opinions of his own, only attacking others', but that doesn't really improve anything for me. For example, he claims outright that capital flow across borders causes instability and is bad for growth. If this is true, then where is the limit? Should each town have capital flow restrictions to neighboring towns? Why are national boundaries the right lines of delineation?

- Many arguments seem circular. For instance, although lip service is payed to certain historical "collective actions" causing certain countries to become rich, this seems to become a circular argument when it is claimed that the rich only do these "collective actions" because of their existing circumstances. Or maybe the collective actions were something else, and the author was only referring to the productivity of the rich. I have no idea, and the author does nothing to help elucidate his points.

- The author is a big fan of China as an example of a heavily controlled economy experiencing great growth. He never addresses the obvious issues that: 1. Much of this growth is in "special economic zones" with more freedom than the rest of the country 2. Much of it is via foreign direct investment 3. The conventional wisdom is that China began to grow after liberalization under Deng Xiaoping.

- What finally stopped me was the author's quite un-nuanced use of the US as an example of the success of protectionism, while ignoring that the US itself was the largest economic union in history. Given its continual wars with European powers, the only other major economic powers of the time, the US had many security and other non-economic reasons for protectionism. This is ignored.

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- Sean

Tear Down this Myth

Our recent financial meltdown provided a truly dramatic, frightening, undeniable refutation of every single free market verity that has dominated Western thinking since Thatcher and Reagan. It was as if a gigantic mask slipped for a moment. In the event, when all the economic theories proved false, when we learned that our grotesquely overpaid bankers and CEOs have actually been destroying value not building it, what happened?

They simply grabbed the money anyway. The Bush administration simply violated its own proclaimed ideology, pushed aside legal rules and constitutional niceties, and handed the plutocrats billions in taxpayer funds. It was not just socialism for the rich. It was more like the rich carrying out a brutal smash and grab job on a mammoth scale.

Since that ugly crime, has free market ideology lost ground in the United States? Hardly. It has only lost its mind. As GOP dissents on the financial crisis report show, Marketism has evolved into a blind, violent fundamentalism complete with a rising cadre of political goons.

Don't worry, Ha-Joon Chan isn't quite as virulent as I am. He is no fire breathing leftist. I liked this last book "Bad Samaritans" well enough to try this one, and found it an ideal primer on the economic (actually, political) myths that keep our system hurtling towards its next crisis. He takes 23 things you are likely to hear every free market ideologue (and most Americans) utter with confidence, and provides compelling rational and historical refutations.

And nice tidbits. Did you know, for example, that Marx was actually a bigger fan of the joint stock corporation than was Adam Smith? The brief, thematic chapters and a good reading make this an ideal economics book for the audio format. It is pitched at the average reader, but even those with some background will learn a thing or two.

Should be required reading for Marketism's brainwashed masses. If you are among them, be brave, read it and think.
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- Nelson Alexander

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-13-2011
  • Publisher: Audible Studios