False Economy by Alan Beattie

Review by Hazel Henderson

This book is a gem! Historian and economist Alan Beattie gives us a sweeping but deeply researched overview of trade through the centuries, leading us to greater understanding of today’s issues over trade development and globalization.

We are treated to deeply skeptical views of most government policies and how they have always been swayed or captured by domestic special interest groups. Over the centuries, we see how lobbying by such self-interested groups distort markets and trade to protect historic patterns and incumbent industries, whether earlier sugar and cotton interest and the East India Company or today’s ethanol subsidies in the USA and farm subsidies in Europe and the US.

Today, we see these same forces representing the past dominance of coal, oil and nuclear power lobbying to prevent the emergence of disruptive new green technologies: solar, wind, geothermal, wave power and efficiency in the energy sector.

Beattie’s anecdotes from history are fascinating and the lessons he teaches include those of cultural patterns, religions and how they affect the ability of countries to rise above them to find new paths to development. He shows how economics is too narrow and reductionist to capture such broader phenomena. He might have emphasized these deeper issues as they relate to the WTO and how its rules are still dominated by reductionist economic indicators such as GDP – now being exposed as a hopelessly inaccurate measure of a country’s progress and development (see for example, the Beyond GDP Conference in the European Parliament in 2007, www.beyond-gdp.eu).