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Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman: An Imaginary Debate

Capitalism and FreedomCapitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman

My Rating★★★★☆

Friedman is definitely one of the most eloquent economists ever to have ventured into public discourse and also one of the most influential. And his arguments are powerful and almost impossible to argue against without stripping oneself of intellectual integrity. No doubts about that. But the imaginary debating partner cannot help but wonder if staking a claim to the moral high ground in an argument is not exactly the most liberal way of conducting one. Friedman puts a lot of stock into how true liberalism must be determined and the gist is that it is about letting people choose what is best for them. Now, having agreed with that, the imaginary debating partner would begin to feel slightly discomfited as Friedman begins to assert that given everything else his school has the right to define how this ‘freedom’ of expression should be exercised and defined.

This second definition feels discomfiting because the imaginary debater cannot quite get how Friedman can claim the authority to dictate that the natural tendency of all democracies towards being welfare states is not really in keeping with the best interests of people. The imaginary debater tries to argue that with universal franchise, surely we can allow the economic system to explore its welfare limits and see how it works, just as we have explored mercantile limits earlier. But Friedman takes no note and sticks to the stand that his school knows best what ‘freedom’ really is and how it is to be best expressed.

The imaginary debater makes one last attempt to try and point out that this is in contrast to Friedman’s basic philosophy in life that underpins all his theories – a basic distrust of all authority.

Seeing the futility, the debate ends.

Disclaimer: The book is a great read (as reflected in the rating). The reviewer is not to be held responsible for random debates that ensues in the reading.

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Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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A Not-So-Dismal Science: A Broader View of Economies and Societies by Mancur Olson

A Not-So-Dismal Science: A Broader View of Economies and SocietiesA Not-So-Dismal Science: A Broader View of Economies and Societies by Mancur Olson

My Rating★★★☆☆

The Octopus

Like Physics, when a science realizes it could underpin all other sciences, it becomes an Octopus. The primary focus of this collection presented by Olson is to be an apologetic for this ‘economic imperialism’: of Economics branching out like an Octopus into almost every sphere of human endeavor. One has to admit that as Economics assumes more and more the role of examining how human beings interact with each other for the attainment of any benefit (in so far as the theory works that any benefit is ultimately economic in a sense, in the broadest meaning of the term), this is almost inevitable. Economics is dominating most policy debates around the world now. Everything has an economic tinge, the green-colored glasses of Oz is now all-pervading. History is written with economic understanding, even science is done from an economic perspective and education is more and more directed by economics.

Most of the essays are meant to illustrate this widening ambit of economics and its integration with the social sciences and beyond. This subset of the essays are not particularly informative as they are exploratory and not argumentative in nature and only attempts to show the growing linkages, not the outcomes of those linkages.

But in the process, Olson being Olson, enough of the essays also try to take on the question of the ‘origin of the world’. And to my chagrin, I have been convinced that I bought the arguments presented by Clark too easily. Olson and co dismantle any productivity based theory by asking a simple question: If the issue was with the people, how is it that they can increase as much as fourfold in productivity on the mere crossing of a border (mexican immigrants to the US etc). Olson has a few counter theories of his own that champion Institutionalism as the answer for most of the economic debates and they seem convincing for now. But the fun thing is that there are as many opinions as there are economists and of course the answers are never to be found in any one camp.

Economics probably has as much to contribute to the various sciences as Olson claims and as he quips glibly, even if economic advice increased the GDP by just 1 percent, that would pay our salaries several times over.

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Posted by on August 30, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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The Economist Presents: Economics: Making Sense of the Modern Economy by Simon Cox

Economics: Making Sense of the Modern EconomyEconomics: Making Sense of the Modern Economy by Simon Cox

My Rating: 2 of 5 stars

It is easy to be stunned by the manifest foresight that a book like this can showcase. But the reader has to remember that in a magazine like The Economist, a number of contrasting ideas about the current world economy would always be sloshing around. To later make a selective compilation of those articles that proved to be ‘prophetic’ is an exercise in exclusion that is designed to present a false sense of confidence or analytical foresight. Just because a collection of articles from a magazine turned out to be quite close to the mark, there is no reason to believe that any random article you might pick up from this week’s Economist will be of equal predictive value.

I have nothing against the magazine or the book. I greatly enjoy the magazine and to a more moderate extent liked the book as well. But the blatantly triumphant endnotes trumpeting the date of each article and a further note on how the world actually played out was grating to say the least.

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Posted by on July 15, 2013 in Books

 

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Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt

Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic EconomicsEconomics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics by Henry Hazlitt

My Rating★★★☆☆

 

This is a true ‘Economics or Dummies’ book. It can be useful in case you want something handy to bang over an economic nit-wit’s head on short notice. Only such a dummy would be unable to puncture your simplistic arguments or need them in the first place. Beyond that, it is hard to envisage much use for this volume, whether for serious discussion or for serious reflection. So if the initial bang was not good enough and if you pack no other arsenal, you might as well get out of there, and fast. This failing is primarily for want of breadth of scope and an explicit avoidance of addressing possible arguments.

After all, any book that promises to redue an antire discipline to ‘one lesson’ should not expect to have much more efectiveess than a poorly aimed sledge hammer.

Of course, there is a case for reading a book like this. Firstly, it might have been useful and even an essential book back then. Textbooks lack bite. Sometimes a book needs to come along that takes a point of view and is not shy of an argument, and of drilling in a single pov to the point of exhaustion. Which is probably why this book has lasted 50 odd years and is still only moderately outdated.

But to a modern student, such an unqualified approach can only seem like sophistry. He is too jaded to believe in panaceas.

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Posted by on July 13, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Thoughts

 

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The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster CapitalismThe Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

My Rating★★★☆☆

I read it once, and I couldn’t believe it.

I went back to the beginning and read it right through again and I believe it even less.

I want to, honestly. And I feel as strongly as the author that The Shock Doctrine is changing the world. But it runs in the face of all economics I have been taught and I find myself scorning and muttering ‘alarmist’ to some of the more provocative paragraphs.

I will now read Seth Godin to recover.

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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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