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The End of Progress: How Modern Economics Has Failed Us

ISBN: 978-0-470-82998-1
256 pages
August 2011
The End of Progress: How Modern Economics Has Failed Us (0470829982) cover image
A cold, hard look at how modern economics has failed us and why we need a new measure of progress

Modern economics has fallen short. It has widened the gap between rich and poor. It has not allocated the world's resources fairly. It has brought the West to the brink of financial ruin. It has placed short-term gain before long-term progress. And it has made us focus on the individual, not the society. The end result is a worldwide financial crisis of epic proportions and a planet being scraped clean of the resources needed by future generations, and things are only getting worse. In The End of Progress: How Modern Economics Has Failed Us popular economist Graeme Maxton looks at what went wrong, and what we can do to get ourselves back on track.

During the Age of Enlightenment society flourished, propelled by the wonder of new discoveries, radical ideas for economic and social development, and a sense that we all had a responsibility to improve our world. It's time to get back to those ideals, step back and examine our values, and work out what humankind really needs.

  • Presents a chilling look at our current financial system along with a compelling argument for what we need to change
  • Argues for new measures of progress that emphasize what really matters, not personal greed
  • Offers a timely look at our broken society and where we're headed next

A thought-provoking, informative book, The End of Progress looks at what got us into our present mess, and shines light onto the road ahead.

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Acknowledgments xiii

1 It’s About You—You Are Responsible Too 1

Part 1 Our Belief in The Free Market Failed Us 9

2 Too Much Choice, Too Little Restraint 11

Fetch the Tool Box 11

Economics Is Not Rocket Science: It Is Not Even Science 16

How Has Economics Failed Us? Let Me Count the Ways 17

A DVD Player Should Cost More than Lunch 19

For Richer and Poorer 20

3 A Broken Financial System 23

Consumption, Not Love, Was the Drug 23

How Far Is Down? 26

Consumer Debt 27

Bank Debt 32

Government Debt 39

4 Squandering Our World 47

Who Owns the World’s Resources? 47

You Don’t Like These Principles? I Have Others 50

We’ll Know What It’s Worth When It’s Gone 51

Our Rare Earth 52

Seven Billion into Water Won’t Go 54

Laissez-Faire, No Thanks 55

5 The Damaging Power of Me 61

Me, Myself, I 61

The Retreat of Conservatism 63

Kiasu. Bless You 64

Greed Is Not Good, Gordon 65

Part 2 Running Blind—We Are Poorly Equipped to Deal with These Challenges 69

6 Can You Read Kant? 71

Don’t Start from Here 71

Well, Duh! 74

Going My Way? 78

7 Who Is in Charge? 81

Someone Needs to Make Decisions 81

Nothing Is Terrible Except Fear Itself 83

Man Is Born Free but Everywhere Is in Chains 84

Who Is in Charge? 89

8 China’s Rising Influence Will Not Help 93

It Can Get Worse 93

The Dragon Is Awake 94

Of Privileges and Principles 96

There Is Anger Too 100

Be Careful What You Wish For 104

Playing for Power 106

Part 3 The Implications of These Failures Will Be Hard 117

9 We Will Become Financially Poorer 119

But Answers Are Easy, Aren’t They? 120

The Long Tail 121

All Comes Tumbling Down 123

Goodbye Stimulus Packages, Hello Savage State Cutbacks 125

More Air Will Not Work 128

You Need Another Hole in That Belt 129

10 Our Way of Life Will Change 133

In the Energy Battles, No One Will Play Nicely 134

When You Are in a Hole, Keep Digging 138

Shine Some Light on the Problem 146

11 We Will Become Less Healthy 151

How Much Oil Is in That Salad? 154

I’ll Give the Scalpel a Wipe Then 158

Was That a Cough? 159

The Buzz Has Gone 162

12 We Need to Diffuse the Threats of Conflict 169

We Do Things Differently, Don’t You See? 171

The Cupboard Will Soon Be Bare 174

But You Promised! 180

Climate Change Will Bring Threats of Confl ict Too 182

Part 4 Light in an Age of “Endarkenment” 185

13 We Need to Change 187

You Just Need a New Washer, Mate 188

14 Other Options Need Debate 203

From Progress to Poverty 203

Give the Flowers the Power 204

That Pip Squeak? 207

15 You. You Have a Role Now Too 219

Index 223

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Graeme Maxton is an economist, author and presenter, well-known for his punchy, clearly-articulated analysis on global affairs. A freelance contributor to The Economist for many years he also writes for a variety of other publications in Europe and Asia.  He is a frequent host on CNBC’s Squawk Box and Capital Connection and a regular guest on BBC and CNN news programs. He is the co-author of two previous books, Driving Over a Cliff, which was nominated for the Best Book About Business Award, and Time for a Model Change. He is based in Vienna and Singapore.
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"Wide in scope, lucid in style--but never pedestrian--this book convinces you that you'll read more about Maxton in the immediate future." -- Devarajan Mahadevan, MoneyLife (3 Nov. 2011)
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September 16, 2011
The End of Progress: How Modern Economics Has Failed Us

 "We should blame the economists for their sloppy thinking and the politicians for selling us such twaddle."

Modern economic ideas caused the financial crisis. They are the cause of over-population and our unsustainable use of the world's resources. They have encouraged a culture of extreme-individualism and weakened many democratic principles. They have made growth, and the debt-fueled consumption it depends upon, a pointless and wasteful goal.

So claims Graeme Maxton in this wonderfully entertaining, engaging and straight-talking book. As a result of our obsessive focus on economic growth and an unquestioning belief in the power of the market he says, modern ideas of "progress" are leading us badly astray.

Maxton explains how many of our recent achievements are being increasingly overshadowed by our failings. Although we have experienced the fastest economic growth in decades, have higher life-expectancies, better standards of nutrition and improved human rights, we are on an unstable and risky path, he claims.

Most of the economic growth of the last 30 years has been fueled by borrowing which has left us a mountain of debt and will constrain us for years to come, he asserts. Although hundreds of millions of the world's poorest people saw their standards of living rise for a while, the financial crisis means they are now right back where they started. The gap between rich and poor has widened almost everywhere. Even the prospects for China, the world's most vigorous economic engine, are waning.

More troublesome, Maxton claims, is that we are running up against other constraints. We are confusing freedom and individualism, preferring short-term gain to healthy long-term development. Educational standards are falling in many places. The Internet is addling our minds. Both make it harder for us to think about the challenges we face. Even fundamental principles of charity, democracy and justice are being undermined. Most worrying of all, our use of some of the world's resources is becoming unsustainable. We are under-pricing the world's raw materials and wasting them. This encourages us to empty the oceans, pollute the skies and destroy the rainforests without much thought for the consequences. We are making the environment pay for our progress. Unless we take a different approach, we will "leave our grandchildren a wasteland", he says.

All of these troubles are down to sloppy economic thinking, claims Maxton.

With a panoramic sweep through 200 years of history, he contrasts our current approach to economics and social development with the time of the Enlightenment in Europe and America. He shows how the solid principles espoused by thinkers such as Adam Smith and the spirit of intellectual curiosity and openness of the time, have been progressively trashed during the last 30 years.

Without a major rethink in our approach to the world, we face the end of this precious growth, and the end of what we now regard as progress. Instead, Maxton claims, we can look forward to a time of greater poverty, increasing conflict and falling life expectancies. Standards of living will decline in the US and Europe. In Africa, Asia and the Middle East, dreams of progress will not come true.

In the concluding chapters of this thought-provoking and important book, Maxton looks at another way forward. He believes we need to reform our ideas about the free market, competition, regulation and trade. Ultimately, he says, we need to put good society, not just dollars and cents, back at the core of all our aspirations and ideals.

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