Thursday, October 29, 2009

No nonsense?

I recently read The No-Nonsense Guide to Global Finance, courtesy of the publishers at New Internationalist. As you'd expect from the title, it's a very digestible overview of the international finance system, starting from what 'money' actually is, through the increasingly weird and wonderful activities of banks, to the root causes and effects of the recent mess. As such, it's a great introduction, very clearly written, and spiced with some fascinating historical nuggets - it's a rare treat to have such lucid accounts of both the origins of money itself, and the origins of the credit crunch.

And as you'd expect from the publishers of New Internationalist (a venerable magazine on international development issues, originally sponsored by Oxfam and Christian Aid), it takes a deeply sceptical line on the pre-crash orthodoxy. Simultaneously explaining and critiquing something as complex as the global financial system is a tricky task, but author Peter Stalker generally pulls it off.

Some parts do grate a little - the chapter on the role of the World Bank and IMF is titled 'The ugly sisters', a judgmental epithet that does rather beg the question -and there is a vague sense of preaching to the converted. Anyone committed to the old economic models will find some of the conclusions easy to dismiss - but then, anyone still wedded to the old certainties has enough problems of their own.

It's certainly not an entirely objective book, but so ingrained are the ideologies in global finance, and so emotive the effects, that it's questionable whether objectivity would be possible or desirable. It is a lucid and engaging book, and there's few readers - especially among its target audience - who won't come away with something new.

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