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Extreme Economies: Survival, Failure, Future – Lessons from the World’s Limits

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  516 ratings  ·  73 reviews
To understand how humans react and adapt to economic change we need to study people who live in harsh environments. From war zones, natural disasters and failed states, to aging societies and the challenges of technological advancement, every life in this book has been hit by a seismic shock, violently broken or changed in some way.

People living in these odd and marginal p
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published September 5th 2019 by Bantam Press
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Oct 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The name of the book is Extreme Economies, not Extreme Economics and the idea behind it is intriguing. Richard Davies visits cities, regions and cities that are experiencing today what most of the world will probably be experiencing in a few years time, such as disaster, aging, inequality and technology replacing human jobs. It is economic prediction by extreme. He is highly successful, by mixing personal testaments with more deep economic analysis. My feeling is that he is able to paint a coher ...more
Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Extreme Economies : Survival, Failure, Future – Lessons from the World’s Limits (2019) by Richard Davies is an excellent book that has chapters on extreme economies around the world. Davies is the former economics editor of The Economist and is an economics fellow at the LSE. He may also have founded Supertramp, but perhaps not. Russ Roberts also recently interviewed Davies on Econtalk for anyone who wants to get an idea of whats in the book. 

The places examined are grouped into three groups, su
Aug 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
In Extreme Economies, Richard Davies combines a background in journalism and economics as he asks what we can learn from extreme economies that have survived in the face of catastrophe, that have failed in spite of advantage, and that seem like windows into the future. Not only does Davies go to many places that I would struggle to locate on a map, but he also considers problems that I think many people don't think about. By this I mean that while people know there are refugee camps, I doubt man ...more
Andrew Ritchie
Nov 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
The nine chapters of this book tell different stories of how economies develop, whether formal or informal.

All of the chapters are intriguing and interesting, however some felt a little more contrived in their conclusions than others.

Most of the chapters really gave me something to think about which is one of the things I always look for in a book.

Overall close to 5 stars and definitely a book I'd recommend to people interested in how people interact in extreme circumstances as well as those eco
Thomas Hay
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent. Richard travels to nine very different extreme economies to learn about survival, failure and the future. A wonderful combination of immersive travel and popular economics reminiscent of Reggie Yates and Tim Harford. The book is both easily digestible and packed with historical context, travel stories, economic assessment and intuitive thinking. I particularly enjoyed the future economies at the end, none of which I had thought about in this level of detail before.
Rishabh Srivastava
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating and largely non-partisan overview of how economies in different parts of the world work. The author visits places across the world, and tries to paints a narrative picture of how different economic models have performed in varying conditions.

The interview and enquiry driven nature of the author's work means that he is able to make arguments that more data-driven economists would be unable to support, but also mean that his insights could be biased by his relatively narrow
May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book with an interesting conclusion on the future of the economics of life. Reviewing different cities and population centers that have "extreme economies," such as remarkable resurgence in the aftermath of catastrophe, and the sophisticated development of informal markets in spite of heavy government controls, the author makes excellent observations about how economies work.
If I may offer one criticism, I was left wondering about some seeming contradictions of observations of the sup
Tõnu Vahtra
Dec 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
10 points for being the first popular book to mention Playtech... and other technology companies in Estonia (Click&Grow, Starship Technologies, Skype) + E-government and other innovations. I've started to give engagement scores to books and this one gets maximum points for engagement. Engagement meaning that when you start the book then it's difficult to put it down and you are looking forward to pick it up again (some other books at the same time are extremely valuable but a real pain to get th ...more
Chloe Domett West
May 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I found this a fantastic book. The way the book was laid out made the lessons from the book easily digestible and very interesting - nine economic case studies (one chapter for each case study) comprising three economies with extreme events / challenges that have thrived, three economies with extreme events / challenges that have/are failing and there economies with extreme challenges that give us insight into what we will be facing in the future. The narration in the book was clear, colourful a ...more
Luke Durbin
Feb 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed Extreme Economies. It wasn't quite what I expected, but then I didn't exactly know what to expect. Richard Davies takes the reader around the world exploring and understanding various economies that don't function like the rest of society. I particularly enjoyed the first section on informal economies that spawn out of necessity but the remaining two, one being dysfunctional economies and the other being economies representing the future to be quite insightful as well.

An ea
Dec 31, 2020 rated it liked it
Written in a rather hyperbolic tone (what else, for a book which has extreme in the title?), much of this book was informative, but some of it was completely overblown. Where the author's writing touched on my professional experience, I found it came up short, which made me suspicious about the rest of the book. ...more
Nov 26, 2020 rated it liked it
Great analysis of the external forces that drive local economies and the adaptability of mankind. The book is not at all comprehensive or especially homogeneous, but it makes some interesting points.
Igor Zurimendi
Oct 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Reads like quality journalism, but packed with serious economics. Fantastic.
Dec 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel, economics
I'm not sure that I am convinced by Davies's thesis that studying extreme economies is useful for understanding and developing policies for the rest of the world. Davies doesn't go into enough detail to seriously argue this.

However, I really enjoyed this book as a hybrid between economics and travel. Much like visiting a market in a foreign country can teach you a lot about the local culture, by looking through the economic lens, Davies reveals some fascinating details that are not apparent to
Feb 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Davies does not dream of economic theories in an ivory tower; he actually visited places with extreme economies to learn about economics and markets.

1. Aceh post tsunami. They lost everything, but thanks to the customs of husbands buying gold Jewelry for their wives when they marry, they were able to rebuild everything. Other good things that came out was the ceasefire between Aceh rebels and the Indonesian government, and the new more open society.
2. Refugee camp at Zaatari. Refugees
Himanshu Modi
Most lessons learnt in economics seem rather ethereal when it comes to applying them. Economic theory is one thing. But the human mind sometimes finds it hard to grapple the full range of consequences of any economic intervention. History is littered with well intentioned incentives and deterrents gone so completely awry, that it would be funny if the outcomes were not so horrifying. Besides, even if we were to honestly try to balance long term health with quick fix solutions for immediate probl ...more
Oct 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Disclaimer: These are my personal notes. There are spoilers. I do not claim 100% accuracy. The review is average at best. Order: Review first. Notes after.

Review & Summary:
The concept is novel. Davies visits 9 economies witnessing different economic conditions. Akin to 9 patients with unique health concerns.

For some readers, the stories might not be new. The reporting is, at times, surface only and maintains distance from the psychological & societal dimensions of life in these 9 economic condi
Fredrik Lindholm
Dec 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: english, non-fiction
Refreshingly simple in structure. Nine places, all of which are extreme in some sense economically, were studied by Davies, who travelled there and interviewed people. The idea for the book is that the extreme situations have something to tell about the economy, which cannot be observed in the normal state.

The book is seemingly without an ideological agenda and just seems to want to describe what everyone of these economies illustrates.

The examples are:
Aceh in Indonesia, the Tsunami of 2004 o
Aug 12, 2020 rated it did not like it
This book has its roots in racist travel guides written by privileged white people who go to "exotic" places and thrill readers at home with their edgy encounters with "natives," dangerous animals, or the extremes of weather. While Davies tries to appear progressive by giving passing lip service to the role the US and CIA played in the overthrow of Lumumba (Congo, 1961) and Allende (Chile, 1973), his big message is simplistic and reactionary: Watch out! This could happen to YOU (comfortable, mid ...more
X Li
Jul 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
As a writer Richard Davies is quite good - the anecdotes are interesting and the prose smart but relatively undemanding aka the type of book which people who are curious but don't necessarily have a need for philosophical frameworks can easily pick up and put down.

Each chapter is mostly self contained, though Davies does try to connect them by drawing parallels between chapters. However, Extreme Economies is one of those books where the sum of interesting stories, drawing on some really rich sou
Feb 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The world is heading towards ai and other technologies that could upend much of the way we live. Climate change will upend things from another direction. How to cope? Davies argues that looking at extreme settings today can give pointers for tomorrow, and that up close and personal looks at economics are more meaningful than econometric studies from the serious people echo chamber. Akita Japan, for example, already has more people over 50 than under 50, and points out coping strategies and risks ...more
Mbogo J
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It's a thing of beauty to watch the architect of an iconic building explain how they came up with the design. When they strip out the architectural plan to its bare minimum, just a few lines to illustrate the design. I remember watching the architect of Burj Al Arab, Tom Wright, do this, explaining the sail inspiration behind the tower and I was deeply fascinated. When I read the book description of Extreme Economies, this is what came into my mind's eye. What if we strip the economy to its bare ...more
John Fredrickson
Nov 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
This well-written book is composed of numerous 'stories', each of which focuses on one geographical area's response to economic challenges. There are three major sections: Survival, Failure, and Future. Each section has three stories associated with it. The end of the book summarizes some of the conclusions that can be drawn from the various situations that are depicted.

The challenges described in the Survival and Failure sections are very diverse situations, describing things like tsunami reco
Feb 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
Economics books are frequently dry. This one is not. Richard Davies, the former economics editor of The Economist, surveys 9 economies that have or are experiencing extreme stressors to see what we can learn about markets. The case studies are fascinating, both in general and in the details (want to learn about prison currencies or how refugees subvert cashless economies?)

Davies believes in the concept of markets in general--and he takes obvious delight in the way refugees and prisoners thwart
Oct 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a brilliant book for its simplicity. The concept is beautifully simple. Davies follows the lead of medicine and some other sciences in looking at some of the most extreme cases, the outlier cases. Much can be learned in such cases because the examiner can isolate certain variables. The structure of the book is equally beautifully simple, as he writes about three ‘economies’ that have extreme stress – a Syrian refugee camp, the largest US prison, and an area that suffered the most physica ...more
Jul 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If nothing else this was an interesting look at some out of the way places in the world that gives unique insight into local economies and conditions on the ground. The author visits 9 out of the way locales, breaking up the book into places of ‘resilience’ (for instance, comparing 2 Syrian refugee communities in Jordan), places of ‘lost potential’ (such as Kinshasa in the DRC), and places of ‘tomorrow’ (e.g., Tallinn). Overall the theme of ‘Extreme’ economies worked well, although one could arg ...more
Paterson  Loarn
Aug 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I chose to read Extreme Economies because I hope to understand the economic factors affecting global warming, and the whole-world environment. Richard Davies introduces the reader to several locations where unofficial economies have grown up in the wake of a natural disaster or financial collapse. Some of these work brilliantly well; others are dismal failures. His book is engagingly written and accessible. I enjoyed it in exactly the same way I would enjoy an investigative newspaper article or ...more
Nov 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
In my opinion, a course on economics would be mandatory at every high school and college, since it impacts all of us and plays such an integral part of our lives. Furthermore, this book would be part of the curriculum, since it does a great job of explaining economics without the confusing mathematic formulas. An economy plays a massive role in each society and is something that needs to be constantly nourished, managed, and observed. An economy is easy to take for granted and is fragile.

This b
Richard Marney
Nov 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
The author has chosen an unorthodox approach to explore the question of what shapes the future course of the economy. He has selected nine cases and divides these into three cohorts: (i) Survival (Aceh – Indonesia in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami; the Zaatari refugee camp; and modern day Louisiana prison culture); (ii) Failure (recent - Darien Gap, Panama; Kinshasa, DRC; and Glasgow); and (iii) Future (Akita, Tallin and Santiago, Chile. From the examination, three major factors or drivers ar ...more
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