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March 5, 2018 | by  | in Arts Books |
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Talking to My Daughter About the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis

I have tried to read various economics books over the years, with the idea that I really should educate myself about this force that causes both anguish and glee. However, I have often found the writing of economic “experts” unclear and tangled with inadequate examples.

Yanis Varoufakis is an expert, as  an economics professor and the former Finance Minister of Greece. However, his writing is far from inaccessible. While his other books have long insufferable titles, with words like “Europe,” “establishment,” and “austerity,” his book Talking to My Daughter About the Economy (recently published in English) is a far more approachable explanation of economics for confused young people.

As the title indicates, the book was purportedly written for Varoufakis’ fifteen year old daughter, Xenia, who asked him one day about why inequality exists . My curiosity could not help but be drawn in by the personal details; memories of holidays together, or possessions shared between father and daughter. This premise makes for some awkward constructions however, with odd blends of the personal and universal, with lines like “Greece, my country, and the country you consider your own even though you live in Australia,” jarring the reader.

However, Varoufakis doesn’t linger on his daughter. She’s just an excuse, a vehicle — perhaps a gimmick. Instead, this slim book is focused on clearly and concisely explaining the economy to people who do not think they have a stake in it.

While the book is short, it does make for some dense reading, with sweeping statements like “The triumph of exchange values over experiential values changed the world,” which are then followed by considerable elaboration without time to process. Yet Varoufakis almost never confuses, and presents a way of thinking about money, currency, consumerism, and financial crises that all fit together simply.  From the first chapter he is precise and engaging in a way that I did not realise economists could be. This is mainly due to Varoufakis’ use of multiple stories and anecdotes, from The Matrix to Oedipus Rex, to make emotional connections to the economy.

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy feels like it is written for people who might see the creation of an entirely new global order, as Varoufakis tracks moments of incredible change, like the first agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, and the most recent global financial crisis, and ties them elegantly to the economy. He even touches on the inevitable future, and explains how Bitcoin works (in a way that actually makes sense!), and its advantages and disadvantages in a few brief paragraphs.

Other economics books I’ve read seem to place far too much faith in capitalism and trickle down effects. A strength of Varoufakis’ book is that it aligned with my views considerably more, and the rage that Varoufakis feels at capitalism, what it has done to the planet and his own country specifically, simmers constantly.

The final message of the book is one of hope. It is vital, Varoufakis says, as a young person, as an inheritor of the earth, to decide “whether you adapt your behavior to suit market society’s needs, or become obstinate enough to want to adapt society to your own ideas of what [it] should be like”.

The economy may be screwed, but in Varoufakis’ eyes, the actions of this generation mean there is still some hope for the future.

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