23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang

Okay, so y’all know how I am on a quest to one day know everything?

What I have discovered on this quest is that it is possible to become interested in just about anything. Most things (maybe all things? I have not fully tested the hypothesis) are only boring until you know enough about them to get past the 101-level stuff, and then they quickly become very very interesting indeed. It’s like that thing where you’re never more than one really good story arc away from loving a certain superhero in comics? Seems weird now, but a few short years ago, I thought African history was boring.

I KNOW. I KNOW.

Or to give another example, I’ve never been hugely interested in East and Southeast Asian history, but recently I learned a little bit more about Chinese history while reading up on the terracotta army guy, and I learned a little bit more about Vietnamese history from my Enormous Genocide Book, and now I’m kind of feeling like I should start dipping my toe in those waters. Like, the Opium Wars? Gotta know about that, right? That shit was insane!

So I think the stages are:

  1. Don’t know/care about the topic and feel fine about it
  2. Don’t know/care about the topic but feel guilty about it
  3. Feel guilty enough to grudgingly read an article/compile a mini-reading list about the topic
  4. Read a little bit about the topic but then feel annoyed that I still don’t know enough to speak with any authority on the topic
  5. Become mildly-to-very obsessed with the topic

I have been at Stage Two with economics since oh, around the end of the Bush Jr presidency, when the economy was shot to hell and everything was terrible and I couldn’t understand one damn explanation as to why. (Of course, the definition of terrible has since been reset by the Trump presidency and now basically has no bottom so I shouldn’t have worried my pretty little head about it, really.) I reached Stage Three like around maybe mid-2014, and reading 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism has nudged me into Stage Four.

Everyone I talk to regularly is now glancing at the exits as they contemplate the prospect of living with me if I should reach Stage Five with economics, the topic I have always claimed is the most boring topics in the entire fucking world and from which, therefore, they have probably felt they were secure from having to hear all about nonstop for weeks.

–my friends and relations, probably

All of that is to say that while I appreciated 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism for the critical eye that it casts on myths of the free market and why they are misleading, I do not feel I understood more than, oh, 30% of what the book was telling me. 30% is a generous estimate, really. The thing is (this is always the thing at Stage Four) that I do not know enough information to have any means of assessing the information 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism was providing me. I am a babe in the woods when it comes to economics. I hate being a babe in the woods. I HATE IT.

Here’s the one single thing I feel absolutely certain I have grasped and can believe: Ha-Joon Chang says early on in 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism that the free market only seems free because we take for granted many market regulations such as immigration control. Because immigration control prevents the “free” market in developed countries like the US from capitalizing on cheap labor from developing nations. As soon as Chang said it, it seemed obvious, but that had never occurred to me before.

Anyway, I guess I now have to learn everything about economics. God damn it.