I forget how this book ended up in my library. Probably picked up while killing time at a train station or airport. That’s where I mostly seem to buy this kind of lightweight non-fiction. My brain is too tired for the imagination required of a novel or the attention required of more in-depth non-fiction.
How to Speak Money by John Lanchester is a dictionary of terms used about money in the media and by the financial services industry. It’s a handy think to have because many of those terms are difficult to grasp and the meaning of them quite technical. Reading this book will give you a better understanding of what people mean by such things as inflation, equities and hedge funds, or downsizing and rent. There’s some historical context given in the entries about Keynes, Friedman and Marx, and a long introduction that describes what’s happened in economics and finance in the last century or so.
What I found interesting was Lanchester’s focus on the amount of reversification used in the language used to talk about money. Reversification is a word coined by Lanchester for when a term is used to describe the opposite of their initial sense, often deliberately in order to obscure what’s really happening. An example is ‘credit’, which really means ‘debt’. We were brought up to believe debt was a bad thing and people don’t want more of it, but if you rename it credit it sounds like a good thing that you want more of.
It’s bit dry. Lanchester’s writing is quite witty and snarky but there’s only so much he can do with the material. But it is informative and enlightening and well worth reading if you want to understand money and economics a bit more.
The Rent Trap by Rosie Walker and Samir Jeraj
Published by Pluto Books in 2016
The Rent Trap explores the world of private renting and how rising house prices make home ownership out of reach for many renters. It looks at the instability caused by short term contracts and the impact on families. The book covers the de-regulation of the housing market and what that means for tenants.
Most landlords aren’t property developers. Most are individuals who’ve bought a second house as an investment for their retirements, or owner-occupiers renting a room to help with the mortgage payments. But what this means is that the people paying for the house aren’t the ones who’ll eventually own it and this is creating wide inequality. It’s interesting to see how individual small decisions, made for good reasons, create a huge problem in the absence of regulation.
In The Establishment, Owen Jones argues that the establishment is not so much a group of wealthy people in cahoots to keep everyone else down, but rather a collection of people with shared beliefs who benefit from being able to influence each other.
The establishment hasn’t remained stable over the years and those that are considered to make up today’s establishment are not the same as those following WWII. To start with Jones charts the shift in the political consensus from the 1940s to now. Once upon a time, free market ideology was fringe thinking and considered a bit barmy. Jones shows the methods by which more and more influential people were convinced by it’s proponents. It shows how money can be used to change people’s thinking. There are lessons there for those who wish to shift the political consensus back towards the centre, but the lesson is that money speaks and money corrupts.
Jones looks at each of the groups whose members make up the establishment and shows how their interests align and complement those of the other groups. The chapter on tax avoiders was particularly illuminating. The involvement of corporations and huge consultancies in the process of writing legislation and regulation enables those corporations to manipulate the system in their favour. The revolving door between politics and business has serious implications for democracy. To be clear, Jones never claims this is a conspiracy. There’s no group of people sitting in a room somewhere cackling and stroking white cats. Much of this is the unintended and unexamined consequences of people pursuing their own interests.
I found the discussion about ownership of the media and their relationship with their readers interesting. Papers don’t report what they think their readers want. They report what their owners and advertisers want. He shows (and he’s not the first) how the pressure to maximize profit compromises investigative journalism.
The Establishment is a dense and lengthy read. I found it thought-provoking and stimulating and would recommend it to anyone interested in how politics works.
George Soros wrote The Crisis of Global Capitalism in 1998, in the last credit crunch. I thought it would be interesting to see if what he said was still true.
The central point of the book is that money markets aren’t based on natural laws that are always true no matter what, but are actually realities created by the beliefs held by the people participating in them. So, basically, the global financial system is a massive delusion that we all create together. I’m completely on board with that. Unfortunately, the book is written in incomprehensible gibberish. I couldn’t finish it.