by Jerry Alatalo
“Settle the economic question and you settle all other questions. It is the Aaron’s rod which swallows up the rest.”
– WILLIAM MORRIS (1834-1896) English writer, artist
rofessor of Economics at the University of Cambridge in London Ha-Joon Chang is the kind of teacher everyone who’s taken an economics course wish they had. The one economics course this writer took in university was an introduction and focused only on the ideas of so-called free-market guru Milton Friedman. This reflected the economics theory preferred by the professor, but Ha-Joon Chang’s book “Economics: The User’s Guide” (2014) would have been much more informative and valuable.
So, it wasn’t until years later, after getting a computer and exploring the internet, that the idea there were many schools of economic thought and theory came into awareness. Had that introductory course been based on a text/study of a range of theories like “Economics: The User’s Guide”, instead of the narrow view of one man Mr. Friedman, the intervening years would have been fuller with respect to understanding world events and how economic decisions factored into them. So, in that one sense Professor Ha-Joon Chang in writing the book deserves a lot of credit. His intention is to increase men and women’s awareness of economics and understanding of how it matters in the real world.
If one were to sum up his book effort in a single statement, it could go something like: “Economics can be easily understood by everyone, is not the domain of “gurus” or “high priests”, and when more people become knowledgeable about the subject, the stronger democracy becomes”. Before Professor Chang took part in a six-part series on the Real News Network recently, his name and economic perceptions were limited to seeing him speak on a documentary about alternative economics. In that small amount of association with Mr. Chang over the internet, he comes across as a straight-speaking, likable man who has obviously travelled down many economic theory highways.
Spending time on an economics focused blog “Real World Economics Review” a number of comments on articles there have pointed out what some see as a problem in university economics departments: the range of theories covered/taught are very limited. Professor Chang is keenly aware of this problem in teaching college economics, and, once again, deserves a lot of credit for exerting himself intellectually and addressing it. It seems he has reached the point where he’s disturbed by the unnecessary situation where the world’s citizens are allowing a so-called economic “guru priesthood” to take advantage of their naïve, unfounded belief that economics is best left to the “experts”. His efforts continue while citizens could – with an easily obtained understanding of economic theory – become informed and involved in discussions/debates, and make a real difference in determining their particular government’s eventual policies.
Not having purchased and read “Economics: The User’s Guide” as yet, there was one sentiment expressed by a reviewer of the book at amazon.com that stood out: “What impressed me the most was his genuine concern for the well-being of humanity. He covered the problems faced by people from the richest and poorest countries”. That reviewer’s comment just about says it all for people wondering if Professor Chang’s book is worth reading. Ha-Joon Chang is saying that university economics curricula suffer from lack of intellectual diversity, and that if department heads took action to make them more pluralistic, a “cross-fertilization” of ideas would result in greater understanding by students.
He sees increasing average citizens’ knowledge of economics as an important project for raising democracy around the world to a higher, stronger and more relevant, effective level. His vision is one where economists are no longer “impervious to outside scrutiny” – where there is little to no public debate on their proposals and decisions. Ha-Joon Chang’s vision is one where citizens are very well-informed about economics, regularly take part in discussions on important economic issues, then positively influence the futures of their nations. The futures of their fellow citizens.
Professor Ha-Joon Chang’s book “Economics: The User’s Guide” on Amazon:
(Thank you to TheRealNews at YouTube)