Does economic growth make you happy?

Adair Turner is the jewel in the crown of British public servants. He is one of a tiny minority in public life today capable of thinking and acting at the highest level. Economics after the Crisis, based on three lectures he delivered at the London School of Economics in 2010, is a thinking person’s delight, not least for the clear and lucid way in which Turner sets out his arguments. His book challenges the three main planks of what he calls the “instrumental conventional wisdom”. The first is that the object of policy should be to maximize Gross Domestic Product per head; the second, that the primary means of doing this is to create freer markets; the third, that increased inequality is acceptable as long as it delivers superior growth. The attack is devastating, leaving little of the policy edifice of the past thirty years standing.

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Book Review: On the threshold – of what?

The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: easy money, high rollers and the great credit crash
by Charles R. Morris
Public Affairs £13.99

The Credit Crunch: housing bubbles, globalization and the worldwide economic crisis
by Graham Turner
Pluto Press. Paperback. £14.99

The Conscience of a Liberal: reclaiming America from the Right
By Paul Krugman
Allen Lane. £20.

Common Wealth: economics for a crowded planet
By Jeffrey Sachs
386pp. Penguin. £22.

New Frontiers in Free Trade: Globalization’s future and Asia’s rising role
By Razeen Sally
Cato Institute. $18.95

The Economists’ Voice: Top economists take on today’s problems
By Joseph E. Stiglitz, Aaron S. Edlin and J. Bradford DeLong. editors
Columbia University Press. £14.95

Of the six books under review, all published this year, only the two by non–economists, Charles R. Morris and Graham Turner, have an inkling of the economic blizzard in store. This reflects the fact that the crisis, at least in its severity, came as a complete surprise to professional economists. The eminent Nobel Prize-winners Paul Krugman, Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph E. Stiglitz, all represented here, have written as though the outstanding fault of the present capitalist system lies not in its instability, but in its distributional effect – both domestic and global. Even now it is not clear how far economists have started to question the economic assumptions that underlie the large–scale collapse we are living through.

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Book Review: A stake in the heart

The Stakeholder Society
by Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott
Yale University Press. £16.95.

In the 1980s, both Communism and democratic socialism succumbed to globalization. There is much about this double defeat which is still mysterious, not least its rough coincidence in time. What is clear is that, from the 1970s onwards, socialism started to recede. It lost its intellectual hegemony, its political support, its technological rationale. The God which was seen to have failed was collectivism – the centralized planning of a society’s future.

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What’s wrong with global capitalism?

False Dawn: Delusions of global capitalism
by John Gray
Granta Books £17.99

While reading John Gray’s False Dawn, a diatribe against global capitalism, I had to keep reminding myself that I was reviewing a book, not a person. Gray’s intellectual gyrations have become legendary. I am told he was a socialist in the 1970s. He was a Thatcherite in the 1980s. (The Iron Lady once said to me: “What ever happened to John Gray? He used to be one of us.”) Then he adopted the fashionable communitarianism. Judging from his latest book, he is what Marx would have called a “Reactionist” – with hope extinguished, but with a lively apprehension of disaster. He plays each role with passion and panache. But with so much here today, gone tomorrow, it is hard to know how seriously to take his arguments.

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Essay: First steps in making schools independent

The character of an educational system can most readily be understood by discovering who controls it. In 1979, the answer was reasonably clear. To use today’s fashionable term, there were five main educational stakeholders: local authorities, teachers’ unions, colleges of education, examination boards and the central government. Of these, the most import-ant were the local authorities. They were the legal owners of the institutions in which most British pupils were educated between the ages of five and eighteen (and beyond, if they were students at polytechnics).

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Book Review: The road of excess leads to wisdom

India’s Economic Reforms 1991-2001
By Vijay Joshi and I. M. D. Little 282pp.
Oxford: Clarendon Press £25

The decade of the 1980s was a historical watershed. The twentieth century has been dominated by collectivism – the planning and control of economic life by governments. In the 1980s, collectivism collapsed, both as a project and as a working system. This collapse has been global. The command economies of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and China are gone; governments in developed and developing countries alike have been privatizing their public sectors and shredding their instruments of intervention and control. The aim of economic reform is remarkably similar everywhere: a market economy based on private ownership, with accountable governments limited to relatively few functions.

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Book Review: Whatever happened to the New Industrial State?

The Good Society
By John Kenneth Galbraith
Sinclair-Stevenson. £12.99

It is hard to be critical of someone who writes as wittily and pithily as John Kenneth Galbraith. But any temptation to undue leniency on this score should be resisted. An economist’s track record is more important than his style, and Galbraith’s is not good. Twenty years ago, he was urging on us an economic system close to communism. National economies should be centrally planned to reflect the “public purpose”. International planning should co-ordinate national planning policies. The aims of the planners would be enforced by a mixture of public ownership of the commanding heights (as well as the disorganized depths) of the economy, wage and price controls, high minimum wages, selective protectionism, and “the most vigorous use of the progressive income tax . . . for promoting equality”.

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Book Review: After serfdom

Hayek: The Iron Cage of Liberty
By Andrew Gamble
Oxford: Polity. £45

Friedrich von Hayek’s career is a story of death and resurrection. He was born in Vienna in 1899 and died in Freiburg in 1992, the most famous survivor of the once famous Austrian school of economics. For much of his life he fought a losing battle against the rise and spread of collectivism – the doctrine that the State knows best. His best-known book, The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, analysed the totalitarian forms of collectivism, fascism and Communism.

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