Book Review: Economics: The User’s Guide by Ha-Joon Chang

I have been reading books about economics, banks, 2008 near collapse, and other cheery subjects. It started as the research for my upcoming novel, and it turned into an obsession. I want to understand how humans, our transactions, and other behavior affects the world. How the economy along with politics (the book argues that the two can’t be separated, I agree,) influence how disruptive situations like depression and wars come to be.

Economics: The User’s Guide gives you the basic understanding of economics. It is an introduction to the subject, stating facts about countries, their structures and GDP, telling about theories formed about economics, and how economic policies affect the citizens. If you want a value-free (I don’t believe there can be one) book, then this is not for you. Han-Joon Chang argues for a larger state, against some liberal beliefs about economics and against free markets. I didn’t mind his valued introduction to the subject. That is why we are here, to hear other’s opinions and see if they match to ours, find a reason to alter them or gain a deeper understanding in one way or another. Even when I didn’t see eye to eye with all his statements, I enjoyed his argumentation.

There was over one occasion when I agreed with him, and the most important of them is the responsibility of bankers, traders, and other people “handling” the economy with their actions. I have always found it an odd argument we as a society should bail out those who consciously take risks without having to suffer consequences of those actions. And their only motive is to maximize own profit. I don’t find that a noble pursuit which all of us should maintain. But at the same time, they argue themselves an individual (excluding the rich and influential) should never be pardoned with their loans and other misgivings. There is something illogical and unjust with the argument let alone downright arrogant and dangerous. If we as individuals (citizens and common man) are responsible for our choices and actions (that nothing is due to luck) and should always behave according to the laws, then shouldn’t the banks, brokers, and big businesses (who recently have been trying to get recognised as individuals to gain perks) be?

As a child, I believed in bailouts. The thought of the only factory in my hometown would be shut down and my father to lose his job scared me. I was seven or eight years old (in the 90s), and my family’s and our hometown’s future terrified me. All I could think was death and destruction. There was this heaviness, greyness, and pressure that swept over the town and my heart. Of course, I couldn’t articulate it. There was only this fear and underlying worry, but no words to describe the thick smothering blanket I felt. My hometown never recovered from the recession. Still, after twenty-four years, there is this desperation and sadness in the air and in the people. It has one of the nation’s highest drug, crime, and murder rate relevant to its size. And I can’t help but think there is something wrong if that is due to bets taken on a higher level for a quick buck.

But where Han-Joon Chang sees the solution for this unequal distribution of resources in central banks, larger state, and other measures, I don’t. My journey to understand this thing called economics better haven’t given me the capability to say I have a solution, or that there is one. All I think I know is what is bad and what might have the potentiality to be beneficial to the most. I agree with him that what is beneficial to the most instead of the few, the elite, is better for the society as a whole. Banks, brokers, and rest of the lot, including politicians should be held accountable for the risks their take or else I wouldn’t call it a risk. But unfortunately, there is no risk now. Those who made massive harm to our economy and lost incomprehensible amounts of money 2008’s collapse got their bonuses, retired happily unlike those who had taken the original housing loans. They paid heavily and were swept under the thick dark blanket.

And now I should conclude this review with what I thought about the book. I think highly of that someone is willing to write and talk about economics and the issues we face with it. I appreciate that the writer gave value judgments and made me re-evaluate my opinions, and my past and to voice aloud my childhood fears for the first time. Now I know what drives me as a writer, it is that fear I had lying on my bed, listening to the stillness of night air, creaking of the house, and muffled arguments of my parents.

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