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23 Things They Don't Tell You about Capitalism

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  10,208 ratings  ·  963 reviews

Thing 1: There is no such thing as free market.
Thing 4: The washing machine has changed the world more than the Internet.
Thing 5: Assume the worst about people, and you get the worst.
Thing 13: Making rich people richer doesn't make the rest of us richer.

If you've wondered how we did not see the economic collapse coming, Ha-Joon Chang knows the answer: We didn't ask what
Hardcover, 286 pages
Published January 2nd 2011 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (first published March 10th 2010)
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Jun 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
"23 Things" (for short) purports to be a rebuttal of commonly held views about the free market, capitalism and the science and profession of economics. Chang's position is pro government action and intervention (left wing, if you will), and he seeks to back it up with evidence and arguments.

I find it rather disappointing. It often addresses straw men and commonly held misconceptions about how economists think (rather than how economists actually think), and often fails to present opposing argume
At first I turned my nose up at this book. I couldn't imagine that it would have anything interesting to say to me. Indeed but for the personal recommendation of the author I would have passed over this book altogether. Well, I say personal recommendation but what I mean is that I listened to this podcast in which Ha-Joon Chang talks through three of the twenty-three things that he discusses in this book. Anyhow the author's presentation convinced me and I seized a copy of the whole book at the ...more
May 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As someone who knows nothing about economics, but is finding herself more and more interested in the subject - this was an excellent read. Ha-Joon Chang is an economist/reader at Cambridge University, but he writes with the simplicity and clarity of a high school teacher, illustrating his arguments superbly well with anecdotes and examples that are entertaining, gripping and easy to understand.
He has been writing for The Guardian since 2008.

The basic tenet of the book is that the USA and UK ha
Aug 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
This is a book that systematically takes apart neoliberal economic assumptions – the ‘things’ here are all nicely summed up in an opening paragraph per chapter where they are stated in the standard, unforgiving terms of neoliberal ideology. This is a book that really does deserve to be read. This guy is so clear he is a joy to read. Not only that, he also opens up the possibility of understanding what is far too often presented as only available to the expert and in impenetrable jargon. You actu ...more
Mar 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In recent years I've come to accept the fact that I forget most of what I read and that there is very little I can do to change this. Even when I re-read, I forget again. Economics is a topic that excites me as much as doing the ironing, but I am compelled to keep trying to educate myself in the field by rage and disgust. Since I forget things, I force myself to keep reading books like this so that, hopefully, when I need them, I'll be able to pull a few concepts and examples out of my back pock ...more
Brilliantly simple yet effective fare which a wide variety on the political compass can digest.

Admittedly not revolutionary. Pure reformist stuff. But makes very important observations on how destructive free-market economics are and have been. One doesn't have to agree with Chang's argument that capitalism itself is not necessarily a bad thing to appreciate his well-founded critisms of the free market.

It debunks the very possibility of the existence of a a free market, it elaborates why owner
Jul 29, 2017 rated it liked it
3rd book I read by Chang, a State Capitalist reformer tearing down Free Market fundamentalism. Given his experiences with South Korea's rapid development, he is a worthy State Capitalist to engage with.

[2021 update of old reviews]:
--Before we go any further, the most accessible real-world econ 101 books I've encountered are still:
-intro: Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: or, How Capitalism Works—and How It Fails
-global: The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions

Maru Kun
Ha-Joon Chang is one of the few economists who you can actually trust to tell the truth as he sees it based on objective evidence. Shiller and Stiglitz are also rare exceptions among economists as both are in this same category.

This book is a great antidote to the free market propaganda that passes for economic analysis these days. A good example is the section on the birth of the South Korean steel industry. Despite the predictions of every free-market economist worth his Heritage Foundation re
Barry Pierce
This is a really accessible book on economics and capitalism. It may not sound like the most fun book to read but Chang actually writes this for the "common person" to use somewhat problematic phrase. He uses many references to pop culture and film in order to get his points across as easily as he can. This also contains a good history of economics and mentions many famous economists (Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, John Maynard Keynes, and the such) which is interesting if you are new to economics ...more
Aaron Jordan
I am a free-market advocate and read this book to examine opposing arguments. I tried to be open-minded, but ultimately found most of the arguments in this book unpersuasive. He makes a few good points, but he also sets up many straw men to tear down positions that nobody holds, and he imbues many of his arguments with abstract plausibilites rather than with logic and empirical evidence. Some of his arguments border on the absurd, such as his claim that the welfare state facilitates economic gro ...more
An incredibly useful read for those who want to challenge their own beliefs, no matter how strongly they adhere to them. Chang is not against capitalism - far from it, actually. He believes, using the words of Churchill, that capitalism is the worst economic system - except for all others. Chang is specifically against free-market capitalism, which has done so much damage to the world economy. The writing is clear, concise and funny at times, managing to treat a difficult topic using the vocabul ...more
Dec 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Plain talk about capitalism - from a Cambridge economist who believes in it, but not in the free market ideology which has surrounded it for the last thirty years. Required reading for anyone who wants a grip on what's actually going on with the global economy, and anyone who likes to kid themselves they vote rationally... ...more
Athan Tolis
Mar 08, 2013 rated it did not like it
The book is full of information, and it's written very clearly. That's a plus, because you can use your spare mental capacity to process this information properly while the author is busy making a terrible hash of it.

I'll be upfront here and admit I come from very similar leanings as the author. But that's precisely why I'm angry with the book. How can somebody so educated and so concerned about the issues allocate the time to write a book and come up so short?

One extremely annoying thing about
Connie Kuntz
Feb 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a very convincing argument about how utterly bogus the notions of free market and free trade actually are. You can find a quote in every chapter regarding this point. My favorite is found on page 73:

"The free trade, free-market policies that have rarely, if ever, worked. Most of the rich countries did not uses such policies when they were developing countries themselves, while these policies have slowed down growth and increased income inequality in the developing countries in the
Tanja Berg
Jun 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business, non-fiction
Finally a book that says it like it is and decimates the neoliberalistic lies we've been touted with one by one. Written in a way that is easily understandable and readable regardless of your earlier insights into economics and the so-called free-market. Learn about how there is no such thing as a free market (thing 1), how companies should not be run in the interest of their owners (thing 2) and 21 other things that will make you understand the world we live in better. Deeply insightful and abs ...more
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
February 2021
Rereading this for Economics of Economics of Policy paper.

"95 per cent of economics is common sense made complicated, and even the remaining 5 per cent, the essential reasoning, if not all the technical details, can be explained in plain terms." p. xviii.


March 2020
If you're a proponent of the free-market economy, this book will challenge you to reconsider your position or, at the very least, to look more cri
Jose Moa
Mar 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
This book demolish with powerfull argumentations 23 dogmas of the dominant ultraliberal economical school of think,that that proclaim the virtues of absolutely desregulated free markets,the privatization of public services and corporations,the reduction of state structures ,the free dismissal and the disminution of welfare state.

The author give reasons that this theories prevalent in the last 30 years,drove in search of short time benefits maximizing to salary reductions of the workers while the
Matthew Devereux ∞
An interesting analysis of the world economy arguing that the near total domination of free market economics over the course of decades has led to the wrong outcomes and that a newer paradigm needs to come into being. One thing the author got wrong in my books though is that the internet is less important than the washing machine - a view that is counter-acted in my works "Hyper Literacy in the Exponential Era" and "Optimism" which are pro-internet and can be found at tinyurl.com/yh6779c7 and ti ...more
Feb 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ha-Joon Chang has achieved what I previously thought impossible - stripping down economics and economic theory to its bare essentials. Chang expertly myth-busts, making what could be an excruciating experience for a reader like myself, into a mind expanding and captivating read. Not only did I find the book very smart and insightful, it has genuinely contributed to shaping my world view on several topics. Plus, it was fun! Well done Ha-Joon Chang!
Dr. Tobias Christian Fischer
Imagine: the internet only was 8 seconds faster than a fax. There are many examples where we think we impacted the world hugely. In fact, we just made only small improvements or even shifted problems to other sectors.
Apr 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book on economics, the free market, and trade policy. Everything is explained in a very understandable way without getting the reader lost in too many details or obscure terms that only an economics expert would understand. It dispels a lot of myths about how the free-market is good for the economy of the country where it is practiced. It describes in detail about how the free-market ideology has destroyed or stagnated the economies of countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin Am ...more
Christopher Rex
This book would make an excellent companion to any economics class. It is better as a "discussion starter" and/or "debate" type of hypothesis than a standard economical study. That within itself is the book's greatest strength and weakness. Many of the arguments put forth here are not backed up w/ methodical statistical studies and data - that's obviously a good thing for the "casual" reader, like myself. The problem is, that without widespread and detailed case-studies it opens itself up to cri ...more
Apr 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I consider this a must-read for anyone like me, who does not have an economics background and has become accustomed to the misleading free market rhetoric. It was refreshing to have some of the principles of my own thoughts on the economy reinforced by a prize-winning economist, as well as to hear other more complicated principles developed by Ha-Joon Chang that challenge the current orthodoxy. The book is incredibly straightforward and easy to read, in a conversational voice I would almost call ...more
Sam Kerslake
Sep 08, 2022 rated it liked it
Chang’s 23 Things is a useful book that makes some very pertinent points about the current form of free market economics. Despite this some of his assumptions about the purpose of economics and how we should measure its success do hold back the potential of a book that was great in many ways.

The usefulness of Chang’s 23 Things, which except for a small number of oddballs I found interesting throughout, is in his offering of counter arguments to neo-liberal economic thinking. Thing 1 does this ef
Tariq Mahmood
Jun 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economy
I love these sort of books which openly challenge established norms. After the 2008 crash, I always felt that the supermen in charge were not made accountable. I did not buy the analogy made between technicians and economists, as both professions have very different outlooks, one is backwards-looking and the other forward.

Books challenges 23 popular economic narratives which are very timely for 2010, but reading this book in 2021 I can already see a number of changes made for mortgage borrowing
Adam Higgitt
Sep 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is a book that could only have been published in 2010. A confluence between the style of Freakonomics and an appetite for tracts like The Spirit Level it may be, but the timing of Ha-Joo Chang’s book is important for another reason. It is a reappraisal of economic orthodoxy only possible once appropriate distance has been gained from the manifest failure of that orthodoxy.

23 Things The Don’t Tell You About Capitalism takes the sacred cows of free market economics one-by-one and calmly slaug
Feb 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
If there’s one thing an average 20 year-old steeped in Western culture has heard about, it’s capitalism. It seems to be casually referenced in a lot of films, and television shows, and intellectual conversations in college dorms over your third ramen dinner of the week. Any self-respecting adult knows a thing or two about economics, and Ha-Joon Chang definitely capitalizes (pun intended) on that concept. So, for the people out there who want a cursory glance at the development of capitalism in 3 ...more
Jacob van Berkel
Oct 16, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tribune
2 Things Chang Doesn't Tell Us About Capitalism

Thing 1: Capitalism is a form a slavery (though not nearly a brutal as chattel slavery of course) and it should be abolished on principle, even if it weren't so problematic in practice.

Thing 2: You cannot contain 'free market capitalism' by setting back the clock to the 1950s-70s. (Because that will only beget a new 1980s, carrying another hostile takeover of democracy by business interests.)
“Recognizing that the boundaries of the market are ambiguous and cannot be determined in an objective way lets us realize that economics is not a science like physics or chemistry, but a political exercise... If the boundaries of what you are studying cannot be scientifically determined, what you are doing is not a science.”

Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this critically-acclaimed book, economic iconoclast Ha-Joon Chang makes a mockery of the beliefs of modern-day capitalists.

Here, in a nutshell, are the 23 points made by the author, who has won the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

1. There is no such thing as a free market.

There are always some rules, and they are set by politics, not the market. Wages are set by government through immigration. Child labour and pollution laws were once contested by capita
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Ha-Joon Chang is a South Korean institutional economist, specializing in development economics. Currently he is a reader in the Political Economy of Development at the University of Cambridge.

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