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Brought to you by Penguin.
When the news first began to trickle out of China about a new virus in December 2019, risk-averse financial markets were alert to its potential for disruption. Yet they could never have predicted the total economic collapse that would follow in COVID-19's wake, as stock markets fell faster and harder than at any time since 1929, currencies across the world plunged, investors panicked and even gold was sold off.
In a matter of weeks, the world's economy was brought to an abrupt halt by governments trying to contain a spiralling public health catastrophe. Flights were grounded, supply chains broken, industries from tourism to oil to hospitality collapsed overnight, leaving hundreds of millions of people unemployed. Central banks responded with unprecedented interventions, just to keep their economies on life-support. For the first time since the Second World War, the entire global economic system contracted.
This book tells the story of that shutdown. We do not yet know how this story ends, or what new world we will find on the other side. In this fast-paced, compelling and at times shocking analysis, Adam Tooze surveys the wreckage, and looks at where we might be headed next.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.
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Adam is a cut above any other writer or intellectual in his field that I have encountered. Narrator is exceptional.
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Expertly pulls together all of the strands
Having read Tooze’s “Crashed”, I knew what to expect. In this book as in the previous, there is a level of technical detail about financial instruments and the intricacies of the accompanying politics that takes a bit of focus. However, the motivations of the actors, from Wall St to Washington, from Bogota to Beijing, are incisively explained and analysed.
There are insightful comments on China, about the system used by the CPC to manage not just the economy but public discourse, including the mobilisation of nationalism. At the time of writing this review, Forbes and the FT are each predicting an Asian slump due to the continuing pandemic, suggesting perhaps that the extent to which COVID has been controlled there has been overstated and that the success of dictatorial regimes and “managed democracies” to control the virus is not as great as Tooze seems to think.
The comments on Trump, much of which are common to the entire intelligentsia, are predictable but grounded in evidence. The paralysis, wilful obstruction and blindness to evidence that Tooze identifies are all real…but they’re not an accident, which is something Tooze just skips past. While the Republican Party is an object of scorn and derision amongst anyone with a brain outside the US, these people are not stupid, and no one is asking the question why. Why are they acting like this? Cui bono? This is not addressed and links to another omission.
The failure of the left. No one, absolutely no one - including myself as a card carrying Marxist - can deny the absolute failure of the radical left to mount a serious challenge for power in the context of a massive economic crisis, all the curtailments of liberty it involved and all the deep inequalities it exposed. The response of workers to the pandemic, well before governments, was to shut down the economy. Tooze demonstrates some brilliant research here, showing how in many areas workers acted first, bosses and governments belatedly. As a side note the egoism of that maniac Elon Musk is clearly shown. This failure of the left is identified by Tooze but there’s no explanation or analysis. That seems a gap in an otherwise quite comprehensive look at the world since Covid-19. The stealing of the clothes of the left - massive fiscal stimulus but with no corresponding attempt to address inequality - is identified but not really commented on.
Moving on, the introduction of a common instrument for public debt in Europe is adroitly summarised. Merkel stands as a colossus above the pygmies of the other European nations, the real Iron Chancellor, utterly focused on the preservation of Europe so that orthodoxies, like that which crushed Syriza in Greece in 2015, can be easily discarded to meet the new crisis. That very question - of the sound dismissal of old orthodoxies - is one that runs through every single page of the book, and Tooze is right about it. Where more analysis could have been added is the extent to which the assumptions of MMT, which Tooze seems to hint at as the basis of a new consensus on economic policy, have actually taken root anywhere in governments beyond as a stopgap measure to be thrown out as soon as convenient. In short, in respect of Europe, will they be right back to austerity at the earliest opportunity?
Elucidation of the impact of the crisis and the measures taken continues throughout the book, region by region, each piece of the jigsaw containing something interesting and often something new. For that alone this is a hugely important contemporaneous record. It feels mildly rushed out, to capitalise on the current headlines, but that does not diminish its worth, in the final analysis.
Lastly, I finished the whole thing in one sitting, that’s how interesting I found the book. That tells you - all the hedging above to one side - my real verdict.
1 person found this helpful
informative but unexciting
I am a huge fan of the author's earlier works. I can highly recommend both wages and crashed. this book is split in two - the economic and medical side. perhaps this decision has impacted the punch as it doesn't have the same connection of his earlier works
A meandering musing, missed opportunity about a vital world event still unfolding and influencing our collective futures.
My second book by Adam Tooze.
I find the problem I had with the previous book, Wages Of Destruction, about the German economy leading up to an including WWII is the same in both cases.
The author paints with a big brush. He is obviously highly intelligent, has a lot of stamina for researching his subject matter, chooses immensely interesting, important topics, covers a lot of ground and attempts to present The Big Picture.
The main problem for me with Tooze is this: he runs wide, but not deep; defines the outline of the terroritory, yet neglects the contextual material to help us understand; describes but does not explain. He takes his time to build the house but without exploring the foundations upon what he builds. He takes things for granted which should be questioned.
So, in the end the reader is left with a feeling that he has been on a journey of intellectual chaos that meanders from point to point.
Tooze scales an immense & dangerous mountain without risking its hazards-without leaving the handholds, trail lines or crampons that the reader needs to follow him up it.
Simon Vance, as usual, does a fine narration.