Book Review – “What’s the Economy For, Anyway?: Why It’s Time to Stop Chasing Growth and Start Pursuing Happiness” by John De Graat and David Batker

Posted: June 1, 2013 in Education, Politics, society

When discussing the economy, many people treat as though it’s a subsistence farm, where the farmer plants crops and hopes for the right conditions. If there’s not enough rain – or too much – the farmer has a bad year. But in actuality the economy isn’t totally dependent on the forces of nature. Things such as unemployment or inflation are rarely caused by things outside the control of decision makers; these things are just considered a better option than the alternatives. The Labor Government, for example, spent up heavily and went into to debt to counteract the effects of GFC. Australia didn’t go into recession, but we now have a debt. (Whether a debt of $14,000 for every working Australia was worth it is something that people will have different views about, but had the Liberals been in power, I suspect we’d have slipped into recession because “there’s just nothing we can do about it”

So, a book like “What’s the Economy For, Anyway?: Why It’s Time to Stop Chasing Growth and Start Pursuing Happiness” by John De Graat and David Batker is somewhat refreshing. As well as looking at the history of terms like Gross Domestic Product,  it examines such things as Bhutan’s concept of trying to create a  Gross National Happiness indicator. The writers argue that GDP is a poor indicator of the “true” health of economy – the old “guns or butter” question. If the GDP rises because of a national disaster or an increase in the number of car accidents, this doesn’t show an improvement in living standards. However, the authors argue economists and governments rely too heavily on GDP as a measure of success.

It also asks the rather obvious question – if greater material wealth and longer worker hours don’t make us any happier, are they worth it? Do we need to make unlimited growth our goal? And it makes the rather strange argument that maybe “tax” isn’t actually the work of the devil.

If you want a few ideas to throw at your “Tea Party” type relatives over a family lunch, or something to quote when arguing with trolls on Facebook, then this book should give you  plenty of interesting moments.

Easy to read and enjoyable.


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