Book Review: 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang

14 Jun

23 Things they don't tell you about Capitalism cover

Ha-Joon Chang is a faculty member in the economics department at Cambridge University, and is an expert in development economics – economics designed to improve people’s lives. His book, 23 Things they don’t tell you about Capitalism, is probably the clearest and most succinct introduction to economics available. It is highly relevant to trade union members, activists and negotiators, and to anyone trying to counter the pro-market myths which dominate our media.

Chang sets about clearly and systematically destroying the myths which the Coalition government and most of the mainstream media take for granted. He shows, for instance, that there’s no such thing as a free market, that the washing machine has changed the world more than the internet, and that planned economies can be highly effective.

He demonstrates why companies should not be run in the interests of their owners, and that making rich people richer doesn’t make the rest of us more prosperous – trickle down economics is a self-serving myth.

Chang shows that people in poor countries are more entrepreneurial than people in rich countries, that microfinance doesn’t work in the long run, that more education in itself is not going to make a country richer, and that leaving things to the market is a very bad idea indeed.

Chang is not an anti-capitalist. He has methodically looked at the evidence for various economic models, and shows what is effective at building strong and sustainable economies. Unsurprisingly for trade unionists, Chang shows that a strong manufacturing sector, employing skilled workers and supported by an intelligent government industrial policy is the most effective way to run an economy.

He shows that leaving everything to the market is a very bad idea, because markets are too complex for us to fully understand and predict. This causes people to make bad decisions and leads to crashes like the recent financial crisis. It makes far more sense, he argues, to limit the freedom of the market, and to develop the economy in the desired direction by government investment in key industries.

This book is filled with very useful information and analysis presented in a highly readable and engaging style. It makes a significant contribution to any trade unionists’ arsenal.

You can buy the book online here, or in any good bookshop.

– by Walton Pantland

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