Sunday, 7 December 2014

LEAP: Books of the Year 2014

We asked a range of economists, activists and commentators for their picks of books published in 2014. So if you're looking for Christmas presents for lefty friends or family, here is what they recommended:

(and we recommend you buy any from a bookshop in the Alliance of Radical Booksellers)

Why we can't afford the Rich (Policy Press), by Andrew Sayer

Recommended by: Ann Pettifor (Prime Economics) & John Christensen (Tax Justice Network)

Ann said: In recommending this book I can do no better than quote Tawney (from the book): "The man who lives by owning without working is necessarily supported by the industry of someone else, and is, therefore, too expensive a luxury to be encouraged."
This is a courageous book, at a time when our media salivate over the rich and powerful. Sayer spells it out clearly: "today’s financial elite have come to imagine - extraordinarily - that extracting interest payments from people, businesses and governments is a form of wealth creation. For them, money is money so who cares where it comes from?". Highly recommended.
John said: It confronts head on the manufactured myths about why rich people are so important to economic success.  Far from being wealth creators, many if not most of the seriously rich people are wealth extractors who navigate political systems to secure personal advantage. Neo-liberal governments have tolerated the re-emergence of levels of inequality not seen since the 19th century, apparently indifferent to the social harm caused by such extremes of inequality. They seem equally indifferent to the environmental harm caused by the extravagant wastefulness of rich people. Far from venerating rich people we need to challenge the shibboleths that surround them and recognise them for what they are: unaffordable.

Capital in the 21st Century (Harvard University Press), by Thomas Piketty

Recommended by: Tom Healy (Nevin Economic Research Institute)

Tom said: The book is a serious read but not beyond the reach of most readers. It is very well written and accessible. I counted only a handful of mathematical equations in all throughout this 200,000 word book. Not bad for an economist whose book is becoming the ‘Book of the decade’.
N.B. John Christensen, preceded his recommendation for Sayer's book (above) by saying, "I'm sure that someone else will recommend Thomas Piketty, so I'll nominate Andrew Sayer's 'Why We Can't Afford the Rich'"

The Unwinding (Faber & Faber), by George Packer; End of the Experiment (Manchester University Press), by CRESC; Austerity Bites (Policy Press), by Mary O'Hara; and Buying Time (Verso), by Wolfgang Streeck

Recommended by: Aditya Chakrabortty (Guardian, senior economics commentator)

Aditya said: George Packer's book is a beautifully-written exploration of how America came to be so unequal, while Mary O'Hara makes a terrific attempt at auditing the social cost of austerity. End of the Experiment is a critique of competition and markets - the industrial case studies are especially valuable. Finally, Wolfgang Streeck's book is a superbly provocative work of political economy.

The Failed Experiment (Comerford & Miller - A Radical Read), by Andrew Fisher

Recommended by: John McDonnell MP (LEAP)

John said: He won't like me saying this on the LEAP website but by far and away the most readable and enthusing economics read this year has been Andrew Fisher's The Failed Experiment. Succinct, incisive and action provoking, it's exactly what was needed.

The Shifts and the Shocks (Allen Lane), by Martin Wolf

Recommended by: Tom Healy (Nevin Economic Research Institute)

Tom said: The book provides a timely and serious analysis of the global situation and outlines some pointers about what needs to happen next if we are not to be condemned to permanent stagnation. Wolf examines some options to stabilise financial markets and avoid crises in the future.

The Entrepreneurial State (Anthem Press), by Mariana Mazzucato

Recommended by: Andrew Fisher (LEAP) & Mick Brooks (author Capitalist Crisis)  

Andrew said: Mazzucato detonates a grenade under the Friedmanite discourse about markets, busting the myth that innovation, entrepreneurialism and dynamism are the preserve of the private sector and the state is a brake on those attributes. But it's also challenging for the left too - posing the question of how we collectively capture the rewards of state-backed research and innovation. It also provokes thinking beyong a vision of the state as guardian of publicly owned monopolies to how we create an entrepreneurial state - vital if we are to regain an industrial strategy.
Mick said: The book is subtitled 'Debunking Private Sector Myths'. It does exactly what it says on the tin. Any economist not totally happy with the right wing orthodoxy, and any activist distressed with the results of privatisation, is likely to know some of the evidence Mazzucato piles up. But it's very handy to have all the evidence in one place. 
For the internet, iPhone, nanotechnology, basic drugs research, green technology and so much more; all the basic research - and all the risk - was taken by the state. The private sector just cherry picked the results. A dominant and fundamental myth about 'private enterprise' is here demolished.

What do you think of the books recommended - have you read them? Are there others that you would recommend? Let us know in the comments ...

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