Sunday, July 31, 2011

Danger: Falling Anvils

I'd been reading How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes by Peter Schiff, but I put it aside. I'm not sure I'll ever finish it. I picked it up because Schiff was one of the few people willing to go public with his opinion that the Housing Bubble was just that, a bubble, and that it had to pop. And he took a lot of heat for that view, even being laughed at to his face on cable television.

So I figured, "Here's a smart guy. I'll buy his book, and see if I can learn anything." Big mistake. How an Economy Grows... could have been an excellent introduction into the Austrian School of economics for the uninitiated. But the book's smug ideology, hectoring tone and simplistic moralizing quickly made reading it wearisome. Far from being a useful introduction to Von Mises and his followers, the book becomes a Randian screed, with Schiff's anger, bitterness and anti-government sentiment driving the whole thing forward. Those that Schiff is most angry with, "economists and politicians," are universally spoken of and portrayed as incompetent and/or smug, deceitful confidence artists, who, instead of sincerely believing in what they are doing, are deliberately perverting the system for their own gain and/or egos, at the expense of the book's upright, hardworking but dim public. While any introduction to a body of knowledge must, of necessity, simplify, Schiff simplifies some items that don't fit with the narrative that he wants to promote clean out of existence, and others are quickly glossed over. The basic format is that of a simplified ongoing narrative, not terribly unlike a children's story, and as the book progresses, Schiff treats the reader more and more like a dim-witted child, taking great care at the end of each narrative to lay out the very same points he just finished delivering so anviliciously. Perhaps he suspected that the constant hammering rendered the reader brain damaged, and so in need of help grasping the concepts.

Overall, I was disappointed. Not because the book turned out to be a partisan screed. After all, Christopher Hitchens has never met a screed that he didn't like, and I find him to be a massively entertaining writer. And I have some sympathies for Austrian economics myself. But How an Economy Grows... is either written for the ideological True Believer who enjoys the thought of the committed Keynesian being either chastised or defensive upon reading or the economic naïf who knows so little that they don't realize when they're being spoken down to. Either way, it was an opportunity squandered.

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