Tuesday 23 December 2014

A Christmas Gift For You

Today sees the release of my fourth book and you can download it for free because it's an IEA monograph. It's sort of a cousin to The Spirit Level Delusion in so far as it fact-checks a series of claims of the type you might read in The Guardian. Three years in the making, its working titles included Schoolboy Errors, Lefties Say the Funniest Things, The Market Maligned, Myths and Straw Men and Pravda, but in the end I went route one with Selfishness, Greed and Capitalism.

This is how I described it on the IEA blog today:

In my new IEA monograph Selfishness, Greed and Capitalism, I discuss some of the most common straw men and myths about free-market capitalism. Some ideological disputes cannot be settled by evidence alone, but factual statements can be checked and, if wrong, soundly rebutted. This is not a book about economic theory and it rarely touches on genuine academic controversies. It merely seeks to set the record straight where factual errors have become conventional wisdom.

This book is divided into two sections. The first deals with ‘straw man’ assertions that are sometimes made about free-market economics. For critics of the market economy, it is easier to respond to absurd distortions of their opponents’ position than to tackle the arguments directly. Four of the most common exaggerations and misrepresentations about economists’ beliefs and assumptions are dealt with here, namely that economists believe that people are (a) totally greedy, and (b) completely rational, and that economists themselves believe that (a) GDP is all that matters, and (b) they live in a free market.

The second part of the monograph addresses specific claims that are frequently made about economic life in the era of supposed 'neoliberalism'. Some of these, such as the timeworn lament that 'the rich get richer and the poor get poorer' have been parroted for years throughout the world. Others, such as the TUC's claim that Britain is a country in which ‘inequality soars’ and ‘social mobility has hit reverse’ - or the Guardian's claim that Britain is ‘Europe’s sweatshop’ - are more specific to the UK in the twenty-first century. All can be tested by looking at data from organisations such as the Office for National Statistics. In fact, the data do not support these assertions.

Along the way, the book discusses various myths-within-myths and outright falsehoods that can most charitably be attributed to misunderstanding. Many of these are 'zombie arguments' which have been destroyed many times before and yet continue to walk amongst us. In light of the sound rebuttals these claims have received from the hands of eminent scholars over the years, it is too much to hope that my little monograph will lead to more factual accuracy coming from politicians, the press or the pub bore. Nevertheless, we offer it as an early Christmas present to those who believe that whilst comment is free, facts really should be sacred.  

The straw men
Capitalism relies on greed and selfishness
Economists believe people are perfectly rational
Economists think GDP is all that matters
Economists think we live in a free market

The myths
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer
We are working ever longer hours
Rich countries will not benefit from more economic growth
There is a paradox of prosperity
Inequality is rising in Britain
Inequality is the cause of health and social problems
If you’re born poor, you die poor

Download it here.


Christopher Snowdon said...

Thanks Christopher! Can't wait to read it.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Great book! I was reading chapter 2, which questions whether governments can make more rational decisions on our behalf than we can:

'The problem with delegating power from the individual
to the state ... is that the government is made up of the same flawed men and women who are supposedly so irrational in the marketplace.'

Then I happened to see an article on theconversation.edu about overeating and wastage of food at Christmas. It argues 'leading expert bodies have called for a radical change to food policy and how our food system operates'.
So - an issue often dealt with on this blog - we're not actually trusting politicians to make these decisions for us, but rather 'experts'. Surely, the argument goes, they can make wiser decisions than we can. They have expertise, and they see the big picture.
What do people think about this?

Christopher Snowdon said...

I've said this many times, but any statement preceded by the phrase 'experts have said....' invokes immediate cynicism in me. There are far too many self-proclaimed 'experts' in this world, and the vast majority of them are working to an ideological agenda.

Ondřej Palkovský said...

I have just read the first chapters - it may be just matter of taste, but it seems to me that the problem with "unregulated markets" is that for the economists the term "regulation" does not equal "law/rule", so that "unregulated market" does not mean "market without rules".
I sometimes feel quite sorry for the leftists who maintain it's the economists fault that they don't use the term 'regulation' in a way the leftists are able to criticize.

I prefer to use this way, because practically all examples of why "unregulated markets" are wrong depend on the equality "regulation=rules". Once you explain this away, you end up with examples that are significantly less powerful and actually quite hard to explain even if you have economic training.