An important book for turbulent times-an accessible and engaging economic history of the world, by a leading economic writer.
Alan Beattie has long been intrigued by the fates of different countries, economies, and societies-why some fail and some succeed. Here, he weaves together elements of economics, history, politics, and human stories, revealing that societies, economies, and countries usually make concrete choices that determine their destinies. He opens up larger questions about these choices, and why countries make them or are driven to make them, and what those decisions can mean for the future of our global economy.
Economic history involves forcing together disciplines that fall naturally in different directions. But Beattie has written a lively and lucid book that successfully marries the two subjects and illustrates their interdependence. In doing so, he addresses such illuminating queries as: Why are oil and diamonds more trouble than they are worth? Why did Argentina fail and the United States succeed? Why doesn't Africa grow cocaine?
False Economy explains how human beings have shaped their own fates, however unknowingly, and the conditions of the countries they call home. And though it is history, it does not end with the present day. Beattie shows how decisions that are being made now-which have either absorbed or failed to absorb the lessons from economic history-will determine what happens in the future. What does economic history teach us about the present economic unrest? Who will succeed and why? And who will fail? These are questions that we cannot afford to leave unasked . . . or unanswered.
Financial Times world trade editor Beattie combines economic history, psychology and political analysis to identify the factors that predispose economies to sickness or health. The author takes a human interest, Freakonomics-style approach to such economic riddles as why Islamic nations stay mired in poverty (he argues that one reason might be the Qur'an's dictum against usury and interest-earning) and why Africa is dependent on exporting raw materials rather than commercial products (soaring temperatures and shoddy infrastructure). Beattie imbues economics with wonderful mystery as he untangles the mechanisms of the blood diamond trade and Peru's curious stranglehold on the global export of asparagus. Closer to home, Beattie examines the economic rivalry between Argentina and the United States a century ago; when Argentina seemed to be winning, the U.S. made a series of crucial decisions, moved forward and left Argentina poised for financial disaster. Thorough research, eclectic examples and a sprightly tone ("Puritans were not big on bling") should make this a hit among those interested in world economics-and a must-read alternative for those who couldn't get through Guns, Germs and Steel. (Apr.)
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April 15, 2009
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