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In the graveyard of economic ideology, dead ideas still stalk the land. The recent financial crisis laid bare many of the assumptions behind market liberalism--the theory that market-based solutions are always best, regardless of the problem. For decades, their advocates dominated mainstream economics, and their influence created a system where an unthinking faith in markets led many to view speculative investments as fundamentally safe. The crisis seemed to have killed off these ideas, but they still live on in the minds of many--members of the public, commentators, politicians, economists, and even those charged with cleaning up the mess. In Zombie Economics, John Quiggin explains how these dead ideas still walk among us--and why we must find a way to kill them once and for all if we are to avoid an even bigger financial crisis in the future. Zombie Economics takes the reader through the origins, consequences, and implosion of a system of ideas whose time has come and gone. These beliefs--that deregulation had conquered the financial cycle, that markets were always the best judge of value, that policies designed to benefit the rich made everyone better off--brought us to the brink of disaster once before, and their persistent hold on many threatens to do so again. Because these ideas will never die unless there is an alternative, Zombie Economics also looks ahead at what could replace market liberalism, arguing that a simple return to traditional Keynesian economics and the politics of the welfare state will not be enough--either to kill dead ideas, or prevent future crises.
Here we get some asides and critiques on neo-classical/neoliberal economics and related economic policies, heavily tinged with political undertones, but with some decent and useful data scattered through it. I can't buy the overall thesis that this form of economics is crazy, worthless and irrevocably discredited all of a sudden as of the fall of 2008. As with most such critiques I've seen, it seems to miss the proviso heard often from its proponents admitting its flaws, or rather its disparities from observed behaviors in the real world, sometimes. Yes, there are critical moments when seemingly inexplicable things happen, in relation to idealized frictionless markets and such. But this approach to economics DOES yet give us useful traction on a lot of things that DO happen in the real world. I would like a more disciplined sifting of which economic and political thinkers have said just what about these matters. But it all seems to be bundled together and tarred with a broad, disapproving brush. At some point it morphs from a critique of a school of economics into a polemic against rising inequality, heavy I suppose with nostalgia for an era that, whatever we may feel about it, simply does not exist anymore (and, I would say, collapsed under its own soured idealisms and the shifting tides of economic history alongside the ever-rising claims of many payees, that proved unsustainable, circa 1970, cracking the New Deal coalition as it had evolved, or rather, devolved). In the inequality arguments this book may have scooped more recent works that chip away at the same topics. There, it does offer some useful data but it is a bit polemical-popular for my tastes. On the plus side, it is listenable and these threads can be sorted out.
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Would you listen to Zombie Economics again? Why?
No, because I already know everything that's in it. But you should read it.
What was one of the most memorable moments of Zombie Economics?
The section on Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium models.
Which character – as performed by Gideon Emery – was your favorite?
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
Any additional comments?
After you listen to the book, check out the author's blog.
We live in a world in the feverless grip of undead and undying ideas, whether it be the notion that climate change really isn't happening and the world's science academies are actually over-run by secret Communists, or that austerity is a peachy - and 'commonsense' - antidote to recession.
Though Quiggin's interests range across the Zombie spectrum, his specialty is Economics, and this is where he concentrates raining his defensive blows in ensuring that the dead stay down, as they're supposed to.
He patiently, and entertainingly, explains all the reasons that the premises of what he calls Market Liberalism - and what you may know as Thatcherism, Reaganism, or Economic Rationalism - were rendered defunct and incapable of resuscitation by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.
Why have ordinary working people voted against their own best economic interests, across the Anglophone world in particular, for decades? Why do we live in a society where corporations are people, billionaires are 'just plain folk' - and need hardly be expected to pay much in the way of tax accordingly - and yet schoolteachers and climate scientists are dangerous elitists who threaten our way of life? Oh, the humanity!...
To really know what's gone wrong for the living you must understand the undead, and Quiggin's short tome is a great place to start.
If I have a criticism it's that Quiggin's short history of ideas in Economics tends to be strongly focused on academics; it sometimes seems as though the ideas might truly only have propagated within ivory towers, rather than having been buoyed along in the social marketplace by the interests of those they have served. Since 1979 that has been, almost exclusively, the 1%; Wall Street, not Main Street, and they have lavishly promoted their necrotising notions with the unprecedented spoils at their disposal.
This is a great place to start to inoculate yourself against the Zombie pathology.
Gideon Emery's proficient reading gives a solid Australian voice to this Antipodean author.
Any additional comments?
This was a good book -- they go into depth about the underlying economic theory that lead to the demise of the financial markets in 2008. Their treatment of the trickle-down theory in economics was interesting and very easy to understand. He makes a great argument throughout the book.
Great concept. Mediocre execution. The tie-in with Zombies could have made this an accessible, humorous book on economics, if you are looking for humor laced with facts then give Al Franken a listen. As it stands this Zombie tie-in was a stretch at best, adding little to no entertainment value, leaving the book to stand solely on the facts and research which are present in great depth.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful