Sunday, May 13, 2018

Yanis Varoufakis, Talking to My Daughter About the Economy

At Amazon, Yanis Varoufakis, Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: or, How Capitalism Works - and How It Fails.

And a great book review, at L.A.T., "Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis makes capital comprehensible":
One of the more compelling arguments in the book is his explanation of experiential values — a walk on the beach, a dinner with friends — versus exchange values, a commodity that can be sold. "A dive, a sunset, a joke: all can have an enormous amount of experiential value and no exchange value whatsoever." Varoufakis warns, "Anything without a price, anything that can't be sold, tends to be considered worthless, whereas anything with a price, it is thought, will be desirable." Of course, Facebook and other social media outlets have found a way to monetize our family photos, our vacations and our private lives. Now a dive, a sunset, a joke has an exchange value. Does the monetization of everything erode our humanity? "Our market societies manufacture fantastic machines and incredible wealth, astounding poverty and mountainous debts, but at the same time they manufacture the desires and behaviors required in us for its perpetuation." This is where he gets at what's meaningful about human existence and how the economy affects us all.

The economy touches every aspect of our lives and yet we typically leave it to bankers, financiers and economists. Varoufakis sees that as a mistake. "Leaving the economy to experts is the equivalent of those who lived in the Middle Ages entrusting their welfare to the theologians, the cardinals and the Spanish inquisition. It is a terrible idea."

And what about that anger I mentioned at the beginning of this piece? Almost all of the problems enraging people on both sides, Varoufakis says, stem from income inequality, corporate greed and other issues that are deeply embedded in the economy and the perpetuation of the status quo. If we're going to direct our anger toward solving problems, then this book is a good place to start. As Varoufakis says in the prologue, "Ensuring that everyone is allowed to talk authoritatively about the economy is a prerequisite for a good society and a precondition for an authentic democracy."

That authentic democracy is what he's pushing for. He isn't advocating for socialism or the destruction of capitalism. As he says, it doesn't matter which system you use: "All systems of domination work by enveloping us in their narrative and superstitions in such a way that we cannot see beyond them." What he is suggesting is that we take a step back, allowing some distance and humor into our thinking, and channel our anger into creating a market society that is more humane and more equitable, so that the few don't enjoy the wealth of the world at the expense of the many.