Dots not joined

Book>> False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World by Allan Beattie Penguin Indian Price Rs 450

By Saptrishi Sen
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015 | 03:16:47 AM

-- Book>> False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World by Allan Beattie Penguin Indian Price Rs 450

The subtitle of Allan Beattie's book promises a surprising economic history of the world. And the former World Trade editor of Financial Times tries too hard to keep up to it. Right at the beginning of False Economy he plays a prank on the reader. He asks: what happened on September 11, 2001? And in a jiffy answers: it was the day terrorists attacked Argentina. He then notes, a few months ago the American economy collapsed for the umpteenth time. The prank sets the tone for the rest of the book.

Of course, all of us know it was the other way round. But Beattie tells us it need not have been that way. For much of the 19th century Argentina's economy was way ahead of the US. Even in the early 20th century they were well-matched.That the US became a superpower and Argentina a basket case owes nothing to intricacies of geography, culture or religion. Countries become rich or poor because of the choices their rulers make. But what is so new about that?

Why some countries thrive and others fail is a big question in economics. Beattie hops from country to country and across history for answers. In one chapter he visits the global trade system through the concept of 'virtual water'. A large part of agricultural trade is a transfer from wet places to dry ones of 'virtual water' or water embodied in food and other products. Beattie argues trade is one reason the oft-heralded 'water wars' have failed to materialize: countries have traded water, rather than fought over it.

Trade does sometime stop wars. But it is no universal panacea. How has trade in virtual water stopped water wars? Beattie fails to join the dots.

False Economy is rich in detail but it has very few answers.

Saptrishi Sen teaches economics in Calcutta University

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.