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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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Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs by Muhammad Yunus

Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity's Most Pressing NeedsBuilding Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs by Muhammad Yunus

My Rating★★★★☆

Is Yunus the only practicing (as in the type who never came across the proverbial armchair yet) nobel laureate in economics? (his field is, if not the nobel)

His ideas and beliefs are rooted in and grown from the experience of running what sounds like hundreds of companies and offshoots and sister concerns – almost all successful, launching an entire industry and redefining one of the oldest businesses of the world.

Yet, in spite of full awareness of the credentials of the author, everything inside a reader militates against the seemingly utopian picture Yunus paints. You want to shout at him: all this is fine but REALITY is different! But the reader forgets – Yunus has seen and succeeded in the stark reality of one of the poorest, most torn landscapes in the world and he is proving that the ‘reality’ that economics teaches us is a very constrained reality. All the talk of incentives being the fuel of the human growth engine fall flat. But you don’t give in, you keep drilling deep holes in every cheerful statement of Yunus throughout the introductory chapters, after all you have years of economic training to back you up.

Finally Yunus gets to the case studies, and you read on with growing astonishment that the very principles outlined earlier, the principles that you had in your economic wisdom so thoroughly cut into pieces, all seem to just work on the ground. You scratch your head and try to figure it out. Then you forget your criticism and congratulate yourself on your own positive outlook towards humanity. Until next time.

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Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books

 

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The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has DeclinedThe Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker

My Rating★★★★☆

The Skeptic’s Peace

Pinker warns the reader upfront that the book is huge, and with more than 800 dense pages there is no question about it. It is so wide-ranging that it is fortunate it has such a memorable title – the reader might have easily lost track of where it is all supposed to be heading. Individually, any section of the book is a throughly entertaining masterpiece, but as a whole, in terms of coherence, and on how the thesis and the direction of the arguments hold together, the book is not as much of a delight.

But it is an ambitious book and is in some respects a new sort of history – almost a moral history of the world, and Pinker deserves praise for the attempt. The next such historian to come along has been given much to work with.

Pinker is very convincing about the fact that violence has indeed declined; he is even persuasive on why it was but bound to happen. But when it comes to explaining the phenomenon (which he spends most of the book convincing us is real) based on his strength (psychology and evolutionary biology), he comes up slightly short. Pinker says all the right things and spares no punches and doesn’t flinch from taking on the worst arguments the critics might throw at him but his arguments still seem to lack that knockout blow.

This is not to say that the arguments are weak. Pinker does a remarkable job in his survey of history, of stats and of a multitude of ideas. The scholarship is immaculate, the intentions are noble and the conclusions are plausible but I would still wager that Pinker would fail to convince the majority of his readers.

Why? Because he ignores the contingent nature of history and he forgets that the ‘better angels’ has not only made us a more moral society but has also made us a more skeptical society. I was disappointed that Pinker does not explore the preventive powers of sheer skepticism.

My own thesis, which was evolving as I read Pinker’s, is ultimately that the skeptical mentality is what the ‘civilizing process’ (and the years of bloody wars) has ultimately given us – a conviction that there are no easy answers, no ‘final solutions’. And that is a powerful deterrent to most forms of drastic action, since now it is harder to justify them. This to me is the real cause for optimism (of the measured and skeptical sort, as is our wont now).

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Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Book Reviews, Books, Philosophy

 

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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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An Evening In Paris

 

These thoughts are yours, O Paris,

You who still stays so far away;

Every dream as it arises,

Why don’t you laugh and sway?

 

An evening in Paris is my bliss,

And a night when I no longer travel;

To have a last embrace and a kiss,

Before every lie conspires to unravel.

 

Like a poem built up of sweet jingles,

Every part of you stands just perfect;

Every cornice and every single egress,

They are all so exact and circumspect.

 

But, to find meaning in your labyrinths,

Why do I have to descend to the sewers;

Even as my dreams grow colorful,

Why do they have to lose rhythm and substance?

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2012 in Creative, Poetry, Thoughts

 

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Bleakness Can Be Inspiring

Bleakness can be inspiring:
A bloated river, a ruined city,
Pictures in an old history text-book;
A metropolis blinded by fog,
  Deafened by apologetic airline announcements;
A manual projection camera displayed,
Outside a renovated theater, taking the leap;
Scores of employees in funeral attires,
Walking back from their own graves.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Creative, Poetry, Thoughts

 

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