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  • Ninay Desai

Talking to my Daughter about the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis

You know it’s a rare day when you come across a page-turner about economics written by an economist-turned-politician. In the spirit of full disclosure, you should know that I enjoy books that get clubbed under the genre of economics made fun or pop economics whether it’s Freakonomics and its ‘super’ sibling, Malcolm Gladwell’s bestsellers like Blink and The Outliers or Thomas L Friedman’s more intensive The World is Flat and That used to be Us. Try not to hold this against me!

I like what they set out to do – to answer questions about our world. Some of which are related to money while others are about power and access. But more than the answers, what fascinates me are the questions the writers ask and the varied paths they take to arrive at the answers.

A copy of Talking to my Daughter about the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis lies on a stone seat in a garden. Next to it lies a cup of coffee, a leather pouch and a black pencil. Photo by Ninay Desai.

Yanis Varoufakis poses one such question – Why did the British invade Australia instead of the Aboriginals landing up in London? His answer takes us back 12,000 years to the ‘invention’ of agriculture. Could it be that the seeds of colonialism were strewn by humans starving in parts of Europe and Asia due to a scarcity of food? Many millennia later, the surplus of food that comes from the growing of grain created a ruling class, clergy and ships amongst other things. All of this and a compass made in China gave us global trade.

Compare this to the Aboriginals Down Under. A relatively small population with exclusive access to the plentiful flora and fauna of an entire continent meant that they never ran short and so, didn’t need to grow their own food. As a result, they stuck to painting and music in their free time. Varoufakis uses this and many other examples from the long arc of human history to illustrate how necessity is the mother of invention and ultimately, also an engine for growth.

Originally written in Varoufakis’ native Greek in 2013, Talking to My Daughter About the Economy was translated to English in 2017. Writing as he does with his young daughter in mind, he sets out to explain how market economies or capitalism came to be, why there is so much financial inequality in the world, the inseverable links between debt and profit, how labour and money markets work in counter-intuitive ways and why bankers exist. All good questions, in my opinion. However, these are also questions that could have sleep-inducing answers. I wouldn’t blame you for imagining the horrors of a PowerPoint presentation but stay with me. This is different.

Fortunately for me and anyone else who takes on this book, Varoufakis makes his points in simple language using real-life examples with nary a bar graph or pie chart in sight. I especially revelled in his obvious fondness for story-telling ­­-- dipping into Greek mythology with tales of Icarus and Oedipus sprinkled in along with references to literary classics like Frankenstein and Doctor Faustus to illustrate the pitfalls of unbridled technology and to explain how usury went from being a sin to an integral part of everyday life. Cult classics like The Matrix, Blade Runner and Star Trek make a cameo too, reflecting the conscious and subliminal concerns of people like us, living in an age of increasing mechanization and commercialisation.

exchange value over experiential value

Another compelling subject Varoufakis delves into is how the last couple of centuries witnessed the transformation of 'societies with markets' into market societies. And how, for the most part, exchange value has trumped experiential value in the race that is capitalism. When you think about it, that is a change that touches almost all aspects of our lives - from what we choose to study, how much time we have to indulge in our hobbies to where we live.

Map of the World

For all its positives, I do have one grouse. I’m afraid Talking to My Daughter about the Economy tends to be Euro-centric and some of its deductions too generalised to withstand the test of varied examples. For instance, if surplus is considered a fundamental sign of an economy, then I can understand why the natives of Australia and the indigenous communities in South America didn’t have the means to colonise other countries. What doesn’t sync, however, is why a country like India, with its flourishing trade-links and an economy that amounted to about a quarter of the world’s GDP in the 1700s, never ventured out to Europe, the Americas or Africa?

Setting aside my minor quibbles about how a 200-page book doesn’t take into account all of world history, I would concede that it still does a good job of what I suppose, was its primary aim – to make economics interesting and more accessible. After all, here is an economist stating that economists are ‘almost always wrong’ and exhorting the rest of us to take the reins of these matters into our own hands and make better choices.

All in all, if you’re someone who thinks that economics is too dull to bother with, replete with jargon and best left to those who care about these things, this is the book for you. It feels like a boisterous and engaging class discussion with Varoufakis being the kind of teacher everyone wishes they had.

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2 ความคิดเห็น

03 ก.ย. 2566

Your passion for reading books that make even a bit difficult subjects like economics engaging and relatable shines through in this review, dear Tamedbythefox. It's wonderful to see someone appreciating the quest for answers in such books. Although, I must admit that I had to read it a third time to even try and understand bits of it but it was an intriguing read. Thank you for sharing! 📚🌟

Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
04 ก.ย. 2566

The Fox thanks you, Portia, for reading and commenting! I write about economics-related matters in the hope of encouraging more people to understand stuff that affects us all.

Have a great day!

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