Capitalism is in focus; with communism wiped out practically, one would not have expected that the economists will focus on capitalism. Its negative fallout – extreme inequality, poverty and the damage to the nature have come into sharp focus and criticism. But that did not prompt me to pick up Yanis Varoufakis’ book ‘Talking to My Daughter: A Brief History of Capitalism’. The name suggested that it will be economics comprehensive and simplified, something I was looking for always [but was getting disappointed]. This book did not disappoint me.
The author says, ‘As a teacher of economics, I have always believed that if you are not able to explain the economy in a language young people can understand, then, quite simply, you are clueless yourself.’ Well, the author who is a Greek economist, academic and a politician, certainly passes that test with flying colours! He uses the format of explaining to his teenage daughter, subjects like inequality – its genesis, market society (Michael Sandal, the Harvard Professor says, “We have drifted from having a market economy, to being a market society”), Banking etc. And for the reader like me, who approved the diatribe of Galbraith that ‘Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment to economists’, this book clarifies many concepts and answers several questions.
Neoliberal economics has aggravated inequality. We see its impact everywhere. Trade unions are dead. The Governments, our own included, are being accused of being hand in glove with the big industrialists. The recent crisis in the auto industry has seen millions losing their jobs. The sheer passivity of people to resist shocks us, right?
‘You can learn as much about a country from its silences as you can from its obsessions. The issues politicians are not discussing are as telling and decisive as those they do.’ I wonder if George Monbiot who wrote this had India in mind. I read these words when I picked up and flipped through another book, ‘How Did We Get Into This Mess?’ by George Monbiot. This book is a compilation of essays written by the author for The Guardian provides insights in those issues.
‘Talking to My Daughter’ often refers to exchange value triumphing over experience value; and explains its impact on our society. ‘How Did We Get Into This Mess’ goes a step further – it talks of social identity shaped by our values. Obviously, nobody is born with values; those are shaped by the social environment. George Monbiot points out that by changing our perception of what is normal and acceptable, politics alters our minds as much as our circumstances. We must change things and thinking, but we cannot rely on politicians to drive this change. We must lead the change ourselves. Tall order, but true!
These two books put things in perspective for a reader. They are like the opening pair of batsmen who score centuries and lay a solid foundation for winning.
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”