After last year’s desultory reading log, I’m continuing to do much better this year, which makes me happy.
I’m about to finish reading The Predator State, by James K Galbraith, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in economics, trade, social policy, political economy, economic development or markets at all. It’s the kind of paradigm-shifting social science work that I’ve always loved, with both a sweeping perspective across many decades and many countries and yet also a profoundly intimate concern with individuals and communities.
I will admit that I liked the book partly for the fact that Galbraith confirmed my existing intuitions about the world: that the arguments for “free markets” are riddled with theoretical work-arounds, real-world counter-evidence and also fundamentally philosophical and ethical implications that mean society should be far more thoughtful and downright wary of “market solutions”, “free trade” and Libertarianism (particularly for essential and social goods like healthcare, education, utilities, transportation, housing). Moreover, “The Predator State” also explicitly calls out the problematic nature of big business (i.e., it’s too big and powerful, and being only concerned with short-term profits are almost inevitably predatory and criminal) contrasted against not-big-enough government.
What I especially liked was Galbraith’s insight into the forces that shape the economic world through time and space, like explaining what led to Japan and Germany’s economic strength in export-manufacturing through the 1970s and 1980s and what macroeconomic conditions precipitated the Internet/IT boom in the US through the 1990s. In an oblique fashion, the sense that larger forces are behind the success of individual companies and countries matches the point of view of The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig (which I finished reading last month), where the “principles of success” of individual companies as studied by the popular business press are downplayed or debunked in light of larger forces including macroeconomic policies (i.e., the effect of ”luck” or “right place at the right time” as opposed to effective management strategy).
Can’t wait to read more, and maybe re-read parts so I properly understand Galbriath’s argument against the obsession with US trade, current account and budget deficits.