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False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World
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False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  461 ratings  ·  64 reviews
A "provocative...persuasive" ("The New York Times") book that examines countries' economic destinies.
In "False Economy," Alan Beattie weaves together elements of economics, history, politics, and human stories, revealing that governments and countries make concrete choices that can determine whether they remain a rich or poor nation. He also addresses larger questions ab
ebook, 368 pages
Published April 1st 2009 by Riverhead Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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Andrew K.

To explain what I mean, let me tell you a story: about a year ago, I e-mailed the librarians at the Goizueta business school -- the librarians who have given about eight presentations on conducting business research that I have sat in on, willingly and unwillingly, of which I have only utilized two (an exposure-to-use ratio surpassed only by my cumulative lifetime watching of cooking shows) -- and asked them to recommend a book about business history.

Business history? Yes, I am secret
Beattie has written a formidable book about the intersection of policies/politics and economy/trade. I love this book because unlike most business books, it has more than just one good idea or revelation. Just the first two chapters alone are worth every dollar of the purchase price - his historical comparison of Argentina with the US and subsequent divergent economic success, and his description on Washington vs. ancient Rome have huge relevance today. For example, the city of Berlin (Germany's ...more
Very detailed, really goes in depth into the history and minutiae, but is also fairly dry.

The author presents nine (well, ten) different comparative scenarios to show how different facets of the economy (or ecology and climate, sociology, history, or culture) can lead to very different outcomes: the economics of Argentina versus the United States, the cocaine trade logistics of South America versus Africa, the economic drivers of Christendom versus Islam, and (the one part where I laughed out lo
An enjoyable, thoughtful collection of essays. Certainly not a systematic theory or prescriptive beyond the basics, but a nice treatment of some fundamental principles of economic development. I enjoyed the opening chapter comparing the trajectories of Argentina and the US and the brief history of the textile trade in Britain, particularly the extraordinary measures taken by the British wool industry in the face of imported Indian calico. I was surprised and somewhat disappointed at the lack of ...more
The author's final chapter begins thusly, "Giant pandas are incompetent, inefficient piebald buffoons, and we should end their public subsidies and let them die out." He's not kidding about pandas; his point is that bad decisions can mire economies, like poor evolutionary tracks mire animals, in stagnation. But my point is that this book is a brilliant, lively economic history of the world, told with tongue firmly in cheek and a firm grip on the facts.
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
The author claims that the book is "not a whimsical set of disconnected stories" but rather "an explanation of how human beings have shaped their own destiny." However, sometimes the thread is lost. While Beattie is a very good writer, the book begins to lose momentum towards the end.
Not knowing anything about the book or author besides that I saw it on a friend's shelf and it looked interesting, I spent the first 50 pages or so trying to figure out what Beattie's agenda was -- his arguments were so bland and middle-of-the-road that he was difficult to get a bead on.

Then some hints started to drop: he compliments the IMF; he criticizes protectionism; he defends oil companies and later the WTO. So it actually becomes embarrassingly obvious that he's one of these soft-spoken
Jun 26, 2010 Juha rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those wondering about how the world economy came to look like it does today.
Alan Beattie's theory is that countries historically choose different paths for development and the choices they make matter for a long time into the future. Furthermore, it is not easy to change path once a country has progressed far enough on it. He starts with the book with a hypothetical comparison between Argentina and USA. Both were large countries based on European immigration and their economies started basically at par. But the policy choices they made resulted in the United States beco ...more
Robert Morris
This book is frustrating. It was infuriating enough that I stopped reading it over a year ago. This is something that I rarely do. It bothered me that I did not finish it, so I returned to it. The book is incredibly un-even. The Author is a reporter on trade, and the chapters that fit into his expertise are fascinating. The rise of containerization, and its effects, is a well told story, but it is done especially well here. The general history of trade aspects of the book were superb. When Beatt ...more
Al Clark
I'm generally wary of pop- books, except with things that are utterly beyond me at any other level. This, written by an FT staffer, certainly falls into that category. The difficulty with such books is really that certain people read Guns Germs and Steel, and feel the need to proselytize its general themes uncritically. False Economy could certainly be abused in that way, but it would be a shame, because the book has quite a bit of important content, presented in a friendly way. In some passages ...more
Dan Walker
Interesting book but not very deep. He praises FDR but implies that communism is bad. OK, so where is the line between gov't intervention (good, in his opinion) and communism (bad, in his opinion)? He does not even attempt to answer this obvious question.

He spends time explaining that India and China failed to make the early leap to capitalism - as was accomplished in Western Europe; not because they did not have Christianity while Europe did, but because India developed a caste system and China
"The book tries to explain several interesting conundrums: the Nile river valley is one of the most fertile places on earth, and yet, Egypt has to import half of its wheat; West Africa has the perfect geological and climatic conditions to produce cocaine for Europe, yet it’s made in Columbia before being sent to Europe via Africa; Argentina and USA were equally rich and had the same opportunities during the 1900s, but one became a world power while the other plunged into bankruptcy; Botswana and ...more
Dad (Fred) Hansen
Alan Beattie's "False Economy" is an imformative and intersting book on the economic history of the world, especially from the perspective of a British author who is currently the World Trade Editor for the Financial Times. I started reading this book a couple of weeks ago, at about he same time that I was completing my read of "The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World," by Nial Ferguson, who is also British by birth and by education, but who is now a History Professor at Harvard Un ...more
David R.
Beattie basically evaluates the players in world trade talks with thoughtful and incisive chapters on the various failures of selected economies (Argentina, India, West Africa) and debunks some -- but not all -- of the better known myths.
Just started reading this book and am quite enjoying it so far, not at all dry. Interesting comparison of USA to Argentina, making an argument with a bit of tongue in cheek that Argentina today resembles what the USA might have looked like if the South had won the Civil War. Argentina stayed agrarian-based with manufacturing only as an adjunct supporting agriculture. Also countries that entered the Depression as creditor nations, like USA and France, remained democratic, whereas debtor nations ...more
This book has a lot of interesting stuff in it. Such as, why can diamonds be bad for your national economy. Whether religious countries are more (or less) affluent than agnostic ones. Why Africa doesn't grow cocaine. He has really interesting sentences, like, "It was because the Reformation only half succeeded in Europe and North America that it inadvertently led to a more pluralistic society." Or, "It has often been in the interests of those running a state to limit economic growth in order to ...more
Malcolm Pellettier
Actually quite informative. I'm usually pretty loathe to rate journalists' books - I prefer profs for the most part - but this was wildly informative on world trade.
Ole Phillip
This is an excellent, and different, view on how the world of economics is put together. It is one of those you can view chapter by chapter, put it down when something else takes priority and easily pick up again. The message passed on by Beattie, you can fix it, basically, may be true but difficult to do, is so true. There is a lot of countries out there with a need to change tack. Read in conjunction with history of economics, books on failing states and economies, it just comes home to you... ...more
Amir Hassan
A good read overall. Due to working hours it took me over a month to finish. The book bases itself on histories of nations and how these countries end up to where they are not by accident but rather by a series of choice or policies taken up by their so-called leader.

It has strengthened my belief that it is not the religion itself that curses the country into an undeveloped state but rather the manipulation of those that have vested interest in keeping the status quo. Thus in a way it solidifies
Sagnik Ghoshal
False Economy author Alan Beattie, chief editor of The Financial Times provides an informative, detailed and often witty view of the various quirky economic, social and political views taken by countries that have shaped their own economies and have altered world economies throughout history.

Why Africa does not grow Coccain or Why American Asparagas is imported from Peru or the Story of the World Virtual Water Trade ae just a few of the topics he so finely discusses that helps us revaluate the e
A fun and easy read with a powerful and subtle message. Beattie explores several tangents of world economic history to show how traditional economic arguments fail to capture more decisive, if hard to measure, aspects of reality. A country is so much more than its GDP, its style of government or its level of education. The sum of a people's traditions and beliefs and history manifest themselves in unexpected economic consequences. Beattie's greatest accomplishment is to show the need for modesty ...more
I read this in two parts, before and after I studied an economics course, but you don't need an economics background to understand what Beattie is writing about here. Although I did feel a little frisson of excitement when I recognised jargon and understood the concepts.

A very interesting read, especially in respect of the international trade in invisible water and his ideas about food-security. And also completely worth reading for the comparison between the relative usefulness (or adaptability
Carlos Burga
Using a subject dear to me, history, Mr. Beattie was able to make quite an in-depth introduction to the till-now foreign world of economincs. By using the past to illustrate the present and give us an insight into the future, Beattie gives a novice such as myself an incredible look at present economic realities and how they came to be. Even though this book opened-up a complete new (and not always optimistic) subject to me, it still leaves you with a sense of hope for the future and not a sense ...more
Really great for people that like economics and have wondered how countries and cultures developed the way they have. Author has an irreverent style that is humorous, such as when he compares the success of the housecat to that of the Panda in the beginning of a chapter at the end which is great. If you ever wondered why some country are messed up and how others seem to have got it right, or just why other odd things are the way they are regarding geopolitics, this is a good book.
For those who did not have the fortune to read "Guns, Germs, and Steel," here is a book that helps provide a similar analysis. It's an important idea, that nations are poor or rich not because of their geographical location or the fact that they "exist on a poverty-stricken continent" or due to the biology of their residents, but on the choices they make. Or, in fewer terms:

"Why Argentina could have been a contender, and why Giant Pandas Fail."
I quite enjoyed this long weekend read. I found it easy to get into and sometimes hard to put down. I liked it better and better as I went along: my favourite chapters were 7-9 (development economics, corruption, and the futures of Russia, India and China). The author is an FT columnist and writes with the dry humour you so often see in British publications like The Economist.I'm a big fan of that sort of wit so found this entertaining.
Margaret Sankey
More popular intersection of culture, history and economics--why did America and Argentina turn out so differently after 19th century similarities? Why didn't Washington D.C. get political representation? How did Botswana turn out not to be dysfunctional? What is the Peruvian asparagus-cocaine connection? I'm sure this would all drive a real economist crazy, but I'm a sucker for these kinds of explanations.
Sam Reaves
Why did the jihadists attack the U.S. on 9/11 instead of Argentina? A hundred years ago the two countries were roughly equal in wealth. British journalist Beattie tackles the idea of historical inevitability, showing that there is no determinism in economic history: what counts are the right policies, good leadership, learning from mistakes. A refreshing view, and an antidote to dogmatism of various stripes...
Mandy D
Love economic history.
Ankit Agrawal
To use the same adjectives as those used by Financial Times in its review : "Mesmerizing, supremely entertaining and informative." This book is all of this and much more. It has been well-researched and covers a lot of ground apart from just economics. It encompasses in its wake history, society as well as politics, thus whipping up a heady cocktail for those who enjoy reading all these genres.
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Alan Beattie is the World Trade Editor of the Financial Times, leading the paper’s coverage of trade policy and economic globalisation.

Previous positions with the paper include economics leader writer, commenting on a wide variety of international and domestic economic issues in the editorial column, and two years in Washington DC as chief US economics correspondent, covering the US economy, the F
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