Many of the concepts talked about amongst the 23 things are not new to iTulip members, but are still worth seeing in a different format and milieu.
In addition, those iTulipers who follow Michael Hudson, Bill Black, and so forth will also note the relatively low level of detail under most commentary - though the anecdotes are interesting.
To be fair, I think this is mostly due to the author working primarily at a very high economic level.
There were, however, several key concepts which are new.
- Manufacturing vs. Service jobs. 2 key points: the first is that one reason the manufacturing portion of GDP has fallen is not because of the increasing unimportance of manufacturing, nor because of increasing automation, but rather it is because the service portion of the economy is both increasingly expensive (standard of living) and inflexible – i.e. unable to increase productivity in the same manner as manufacturing can and has. The second is the direct corollary that costs of services are a direct function of immigration – nations with higher immigration have lower service costs if the standard of living is otherwise identical.
- Education vs. economic development. There is no correlation whatsoever between either literacy rates, standard test achievement scores, or even university level enrollment and economic success.
- Government vs. private sector. Professor Chang makes an argument that all economies are planned in some way, we simply fail to see the wires.
- Rational choice is an illusion due to shortcuts made in order to reduce complexity, as is the concept that self interest is the best or even primary human motivator.
- A welfare state seems to correlate more with ‘free trade’ than an austere one because workers in an austere state fight harder to retain their more irreplaceable jobs and benefits.
- The reason poor countries are poor isn’t because they have so many poor people. It is because their rich people do so much less to contribute to the overall economic productivity and potential of their own nation.
With regards to 3) above, that is something Dr. Michael Hudson has noted as well, but perhaps in this case Dr. Chang doesn’t quite go far enough towards the corollary that the failure of government to direct economic planning in the national interest means allowing said planning to be potentially directed toward other purposes. Dr. Chang also does not make any reference to institutional fraud – an interesting oversight – ascribing the GFC as being purely a function of overleverage and under-comprehension of new financial instruments. To be fair, the book seems primarily focused on very high level economic flows, so perhaps in this respect it is unsurprising that 23 Things doesn’t go into FIRE or fraud.
There is much more, I would highly recommend this book both for what facts are presented as well as for being eminently readable and reasonable. As with Dr. Michael Hudson, Dr. Chang educates on economic history as well as economics, with anecdotes ranging from Stalin’s pre-empting of his opponent’s economic theories to seemingly antithetical views held by many of the patron saints of neoliberal economic theory.
Those of free market ideological bent are not going to enjoy this book, but agree or disagree, the points made therein are worth consideration.