Margaret Legum, 'It doesn't have to be like this: Global economics - a new way forward'

IssueDecember 2005 - January 2006
Review by Marc Hudson

Margaret Legum has written a good and interesting book, but not the one she set out to write.

Part of the problem is that the book emerged from a set of lectures given at a University of Capetown Summer School. There is therefore an expectation that the reader already has a relatively clear understanding of the social and ecological costs of unfettered capitalism. While this is true for South Africa, other parts of the world still have a (diminishing) cushion of illusion. I fear that the density of her prose (suited to speaking, not to reading?) may deter the casual, illusioned reader.

The book has many interesting examples and concepts, including the “Contraction and Convergence” model for reducing carbon emissions (p98) and seigniorage (“The profit that results from the difference in the cost of printing money and the face value of that money”: essentially a licence to print money! - p195) and “killer” quotes from economists and social thinkers, for instance Henry Liu's “World trade is now a game in which the US produces dollars and the rest of the world produces things that the rest of the world can buy.”

Each chapter ends with “points for discussion” which would make it a useful resource for a study group. Interspersed throughout are panels on “Myths of Globalisation,” just begging - with some editing and polishing - to become the text of a leaflet.

Unusually for a book of such depth and breadth, there are very few factual errors - such as the birth of the Eurodollar (p22) - and conflated conceptual distinctions, for example, of capitalism and markets (the two may overlap, but are not synonyms). There is no index, but Legum has provided a useful bibliography/suggested reading list and also a smashing glossary, essential for dealing with the alphabet soup that is Global Governance...

These are minor quibbles about an impressive work. To be truly friendly for the complete beginner, it would need cartoons from someone like Polyp, more pithy examples, and a slightly racier style. As it stands, newcomers will learn a lot if they persevere, and even the “advanced reader” will also glean new nuggets. One to buy and share.

See more of: Review