How the West was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly And the Stark Choices Ahead by Dambisa Moyo
|How the West was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly And the Stark Choices Ahead by Dambisa Moyo|
|Genre: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Zoe Page|
|Summary: Is the future in the hands of the West...or the rest? This easy to read book argues that we need to work quickly before we lose everything we've had for years, and life as we know it comes to an end.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: January 2011|
|Publisher: Allen Lane|
Moyo's first book, Dead Aid was a well regarded and oft discussed title when I worked in Development. In a country where it was hard to find any book at all, somehow every ex-pat household seemed to have at least one copy of this, and I followed the sheep and had a read. It was a great, insightful book that we could all identify with, and I was eager to read her second, if somewhat unrelated work.
It seems like every day at the moment there's some economic doom and gloom story on the news, but this is not the book to pick up if you need a little light relief from this. With the subtitle Fifty years of economic folly and the stark choices ahead, Moyo pulls no punches in her attack on what she calls the complacent elite.
Depending on who you ask, the phenomenal impact of western economies across the world is either a Very Good or Very Bad thing. Some might even say they're on the fence, they don't care, it doesn't really matter. How The West Was Lost does not celebrate the sentiments of its title, but rather mourns them. From the language she uses there's no doubting the author's opinions, and she repeatedly accuses governments of “accounting trickery” and corporations of “sweeping the inconvenient truth of horrendous pension liabilities under the carpet”. At the same time the emotions are backed up with evidence, so you don't get the feeling it's just one disgruntled scholar's ramblings on the subject.
The book looks at the problem from every level, starting with individual households defaulting on loans they should never have been approved for, right up to government bailouts. Focussing specifically on the actions of the UK and US governments, Moyo assigns most blame to them and their banks while also pointing the finger at the rest of us, for no one is without fault by her calculation. To illustrate the difference between reality and illusion, she talks about mortgaged properties, where borrowers deludedly believe they “own” a home they have only paid for a fraction of. It's the banks' faults for selling us this idea, but our own for believing it.
It is a dynamic book with animated examples and interesting if sometimes questionable arguments. As in Dead Aid, Moyo takes a not uncomplex topic and presents it in a way that anyone can follow. I am by no means an economist but her explanations and the language she uses ensured I was able to keep up and, at times, even query what she was saying.
She holds up China as an example of an economy doing things 'right': a nation where, for example, both individuals and the government save money, while those in the US are spending all they have and then charging more. In fact, China is her go-to example throughout, from the education system to their response to pandemic threats to what underpins their governmental decision making (the needs of the many – or of the nation – outweigh the needs of the one). It almost begs the question of why she feels that strongly that China prospering would be so detrimental, and at times it comes across as a viewpoint which is very American (which the author is not) and arrogant (who's to say?). The West has, without question, held a lot of economical and social power over the last few centuries, and look where that's got us. Isn't it time we let someone else have a go?
Ultimately I enjoyed this book in the way I would enjoy having a debate with a friend. I didn't agree with everything she said, but I saw her point and you can have a good banter back and forth in your head as you read.
Thanks go to the publishers for sending us a copy of this book.
For more of the same, The Bookbag can also recommend The Big Short by Michael Lewis.
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