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ECONned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism
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ECONned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  403 ratings  ·  39 reviews
Why are we in such a financial mess today? There are lots of proximate causes: over-leverage, global imbalances, bad financial technology that lead to widespread underestimation of risk.
But these are all symptoms. Until we isolate and tackle fundamental causes, we will fail to extirpate the disease. ECONned is the first book to examine the unquestioned role of economists
Hardcover, 362 pages
Published March 2nd 2010 by St. Martin's Press (first published 2010)
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 ·  403 ratings  ·  39 reviews

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Rebecca McNutt
This book looks at modern economics with depth and intriguing detail, but it's written in a way that anybody, from an expert to a newcomer to the topic, can understand. Using real-world examples to get the message across, ECONned dives into the underlying darkness in our system and looks at that booming era between the late 1980's and early 2000's when greed was good and business was a game, and continues to look into life today for the hardest hit by the arising problems post-millennium.
Mark Desrosiers
Jan 30, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: economics
What strange beast is this? This book's original subtitle ("how the myth of free markets wrecked our economy") got a last-minute change to this fluffery about "unenlightened self-interest" -- an obvious turnaround from what could have been a radical critique. She really does posit that free markets are a myth -- very persuasively -- but you have to wade out to page 154, after lots of finance-industry shop talk, to find it. Elsewhere I get alternately entranced and cross-eyed.

This reads l
Andrew Yoder
Apr 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, non-fiction
This is quite possibly one of the best books I've ever read. I've been desperately seeking a clearly written, thorough critique of neo-classical economics - the foundation of our entire modern capitalist economy. This is it.

It's a fairly well-known fact that modern economics sells itself as a "hard science" with clear, logically proven conclusions based on firm premises. Modern economics has become nearly synonymous with theoretical mathematics (without acknowledgment the "theoretical" party) a
Dec 21, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, economics
"ECONned" is a strangely-assembled book--- a kind of mulligatawney stew of essays put together into a single volume. Yves Smith's editors need to be soundly thwacked over this. It's not that the book is bad, or that it's poorly written. It's just that the pieces of the book don't really quite fit.

Her first section is a sharp critique of economic modelling and neoclassical economics as a a critique of economics as a profession (she doesn't think it is...or maybe can ever
Apr 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
Everyone has a villain to blame for our current economic fiasco, but as far as I know, only Yves Smith points the finger at the most obvious target: the intellectual gurus of our material world, the economists. For decades, she says, they have been preoccupied with a misguided effort to create a “science of economics”, an enterprise that has led them to focus exclusively on measurable phenomena and a simplistic model of a “free market”.

She calls it a “Potemkin science” that falls apart when co
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a page-turner. But in this era of BS, a highly useful reference for going back and remembering what happened and didn't happen in the global financial meltdown of 2008.
Jan 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
The only reason I didn't give this book five stars was because there were parts of it that were over my head. Note that this is not the author's fault. She does an excellent job of trying to make some exceptionally complicated content accessible to a lay reader. I understood most of the economic philosophy and political arguments. What eluded me were the intricacies of how the toxic assets were structured. I got enough to get the gist of her argument, which made sense, but I'm left wondering if ...more
Oct 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
Information contained in the book is important for everyone to hear. If someone hasn't heard it before, there are better books out there on the financial crisis, but in the end it does an adequate job laying out the facts. My issue with it is that the presentation felt occasionally unprofessional and shallow. It was going for a casual tone, but didn't really succeed. Which was a shame because I would have liked to recommend this book more.
Jan 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
It took a long time to work through all the chapters in the book, but it was well worth it. The end chapter about the currert financial crisis uses all the acronyms introduced earlier and finally explains what the whole thing was about. Well worth the time - this may be the most important book I've read in years.
John Dziennik
Nov 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It makes the causes of the current state of the economy clear, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to naming those responsobley (including us, the consumer credit junkies). Failed or unproven theories were used, and neoclassical economics proved to be a complete fallacy. Yet the geniuses who drove us off a cliff just got a brand new bus to drive us to the next disaster.
Christopher Mitchell
Mar 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a very good critique of neoclassical economics and the combination of stupidity and corruption that led to the Great Recession. This was one of the more complicated and technical, advanced kind of critiques I have seen and wouldn't recommend it as a first for anyone seeking to understand what happened.
May 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library
This is far and away the best book I've read about the current financial crisis. Yves Smith does a great job explaining the hows and whys of financial risk-taking.
Ajay Palekar
Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
As someone who has studied at prestigious bastions of the economics profession like the London School of Economics, I grew up learning many of the myths that are destructively ripped apart in this book. It takes a perspective far to rare in today's day and age and is critical of economists, how they educate students, how they refuse to integrate with the other social sciences or accept that human's don't conform well to mathematical models. On a fundamental basis this book is about misrepresenta ...more
Bill Reynolds
Oct 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've followed Ms. Smith's Naked Capitalism blog for a while, but only recently bumbled into the fact that she wrote a book about the 2008 crash. I've picked up a decent amount of economics and some finance in my usual ADD ("Ooo, shiny") autodidactical style, but I really didn't understand as much as I thought that I did, especially about the complex "investment" instruments that were at the heart of the crisis. This excellent book lays everything out in a clear and lucid style. I think it should ...more
Scout Collins
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: economists
Shelves: did-not-finish
I was interested in reading about "how unenlightened self interest undermined democracy and corrupted capitalism", however instead I got a book only someone with a degree in Economics could understand. There were terms and other things referenced that I didn't understand, so I had to stop reading the book after a few chapters, it was really hard to get through. Maybe I'll try reading it again in a few years.

I would recommend it to people who know a lot about economics.
Sep 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good contextual overview of the development of the modern financial economy. Glib style and excessive, unnecessary detail in later chapters.
Nov 08, 2011 rated it liked it
I first encountered Yves Smith by way of her blog, Naked Capitalism, where she skilfully dissects the economic events of the day. With the help of that blog I worked my way through the economic collapse so it was a cinch that this book would appeal to me.

Smith is a clear writer, very matter-of-fact which is a good thing on such a dense topic as economics. She makes the case (made in great detail by Australian academic Steve Keen in his Debunking Economics) that the assumptions upon w
Apr 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: paper, growth-crisis
If you're interested in getting a decent high-level understanding of the financial instruments created by the financial sector in the past decade or two, and in the changes in the incentive structures at banks and other financial sector players, this book is highly recommended. It will provide you with accessible explanations of the various instruments they thought up, as well as how those relate to each other (though slightly less detailed when it comes to the exact reasons why the instruments ...more
Jan 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing book. It is a very well written book and, mainly, a very important one. The reason why I gave it a five stars score is proportional with the relevance and the proportional seriousness the author put in it. It is easy, when we read economy books, to be presented with a biased view of reality as well as an underlying agenda. This book is well documented, unbiased and very analytical. It is not an easy read to make. I'm not an economics expert an as such I had some hard time to u ...more
Thank goodness I am finally finished reading this book! The jacket description describes ECONned: How Unenlightened Self Interest Undermined Democracy and Corrupted Capitalism as "intelligently written for the layman". If you are not an Economics major, be warned! This is not true. Or it is, as long as you're prepared to learn the entire history of Economic theory before you finally get to Smith's thesis.

This book contains an interesting argument, about a very dry topic, written in a very dry way. I woul
Aug 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
I have to stop reading books on economics for a while. Books like this, which is well written and forcefully makes many valuable points, are starting to leave me too angry for words. No wonder the american educational system is steadily falling behind other countries at an increasing pace! It produces people who actually accept the neo-classical economic hogwash that this book (like so many others) exposes as poorly reasoned nonsense.

I'll stick to arguing with my MIT economist neighb
Jan 20, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: economics
Yves Smith is a management consultant and an economics blogger, who was interviewed on Russia Today alongside such American dissidents as Alex Jones and Lyndon LaRouche. She believes that the recent world financial crisis has utterly discredited the discipline of economics, the neoclassical paradigm of which provided shoddy models of risk and reward, the money managers' reliance of which caused the crisis. I am unconvinced: as far as I know, a great deal of economics, from the research of Nobel ...more
Feb 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
While there is a lot of finance-speak in here and it should not be read lightly by the completely uninitiated, Smith lays out a persuasive case for tighter regulation on the financial industry as a whole. The author of the Naked Capitalism blog dives into subtle implications of credit default swaps, debt obligations and incentives and I did find my mind drifting from time to time. My favorite part is that rather than simply point to problems like many authors do, she proposes solutions that can ...more
Sep 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Yves Smith takes a different look at the financial crisis. Instead of emphasizing the specifics (although she does discuss them) which she sees as symptoms, she attempts to undercut to what she considers is the root cause: a lousy economic paradigm (particularly the neo-classical economic paradigm.)

At times her critique is, perhaps, uncharitable, but I think she raises some valid criticisms and makes some excellent overall points. Without a paradigm shift, we will see more of the sam
Jun 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was my first book club pick that I hadn't read previously. I wanted something on the recent financial collapse, and I think this one worked out pretty well.

The book itself was pretty slow-going (we actually postponed our meeting because no one had finished it, and I was the only one who managed to finish it by meeting date.) Nonetheless I think it offers some pretty valuable information about what happened, the failures of economic theory, and the currently state of financial re
Ecoute Sauvage
Apr 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
There's something instantaneously offputting about any female calling herself "Yves". Her/his book goes downhill from there.

Still, some of the anecdotal data are actually accurate as is the hedge fund strategy described with numerical inputs - assuming of course such trades could be made. The economic theory part is shaky and the tone far too polemic with no obvious reason. All in all a good read on a transPacific flight.
Dick Harding
Sep 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Yves Smith is one of my heroes. I read her economics blog Naked Capitalism every day. I think the views she expresses and others' that she gives a platform to are vital. This book is about the crash and is therefore somewhat easily dated. What is not dated however, is her explanation of what when wrong and the pivotal role that the economics profession played in the making of the crisis. And those dynamics continue.
Roger Merritt
Jan 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Great explanation of the causes of the Great Recession. Having a little knowledge of economics and investment would probably help, but should be understandable to any intelligent high school grad. As President Obama said, some of what they did wasn't illegal, but that was because they bought off the regulators and legislators. And some of what the did and are still doing is blatantly illegal.
Nov 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
A strong indictment of the field of economics, neoliberal philosophy, and the financial industry. The sharpest critique I have seen so far of these three areas and US economic policy since the 1980s.

I would have given the book 5 stars, but didn't because I felt that some sections were not organized well.
May 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
I thought the author made her case. I fully believe that there are ways in which certain unregulated markets can warp the motivations of participants, and Yves Smith does a good job of illustrating how this happens.
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