Saturday 2 May 2020

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy | Yanis Varoufakis #NonFiction

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy took me AGES to finish...and now even longer to review!

I want to be the kind of person that is informed about financial stuff, but honestly, the word economy just makes my eyes glaze over and my brain go numb. Keeping daily accounts and a family budget - yep, got that. Managing things like home loans, savings accounts, superannuation, paying bills - yep, can do. But as soon as you go down that old rabbit hole of world markets, capitalism and economic stimulus, you lose me. Every single time.

I kept up for over half the book; Varoufakis' style is easy to read and quite engaging. But once we left the history lesson behind, I stopped being interested.

His daughter, Xenia lives in Australia, so many of the references and details used Australian examples, which helped. The Ancient, and not so ancient, Greeks also came in for a number of references as did a whole bunch of fictional characters like Doctor Faustus, Frankenstein, Scrooge and the crew on board Star Trek.

Tonight, jotting down some of the passages I underlined (pre-Covid) was, however, a very interesting exercise. Many of Varoufakis' statements have taken on an eerie prescient quality.

  • It's incredible easy to convince ourselves that the order of things - especially when it favours us - is logical, natural and just.
  • No company, no family, no country can recover if it remains for ever in the clutches of an unpayable debt.
  • Bankers, entrepreneurs - rich people in general - tend to be against government....And yet, when a crash occurs...they...suddenly demand the state's aid.
  • Without public debt, market societies can't work.
  • Rousseau - if a goal can only be achieved collectively, success depends not just on each individual pulling together but primarily on each individual believing that every other individual will do so.
  • The labour market is based not just on the exchange value of labour but on people's optimism or pessimism about the economy as a whole.
  • If the economy is the engine of society and debt is the fuel, then labour is the spark, the life-breathing force that animates the engine, while money is the lubricant without which the engine would seize up.
  • Every crisis is pregnant with a recovery. And vice versa.
  • Judging from the three great monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islma - we humans think very highly of ourselves. We like to think that we've been fashioned in the image and likeness of God, of that which is perfect and unique.
  • In ancient Greece, a person who refused to think in terms of the common good was called an idiotis - a privateer, a person who minded his own business.
  • The government serves the interests of those who run it - politicians and bureaucrats.
  • To what do we owe the evolution of our character and our desires? Conflict is the short answer...our confrontation with the world and its refusal to grant us all our wishes at once, as well as the conflict within us made possible by our capacity to think for ourselves...authentic happiness is impossible...without dissatisfaction as well as satisfaction.
  • The economy is too important to leave to the economists.

Economics may never be my thing, but if you want to give it a go, then this is as good a place as any to begin. 

  • My Bodley Head edition published 2017. 
  • Originally published in 2013.
  • Original title Μιλώντας στην κόρη μου για την οικονομία.


  1. Oh, yes many of your notes jotted down ring true during this health and economic crisis!
    Sec Treasury Mnuchin (USA) is running the show when it comes to
    $$ to bail out businesses and citizens in dire need of financial support. I read thata school in Brentwood California (...near Beverly Hills)... is getting $$ to help it out of the crisis. BTW...the school is where Mnuchin's children get their education. Tuition for grades k-8
    is $33.000 per year!! Now...your quote:" rich people in general - tend to be against government....And yet, when a crash occurs...they...suddenly demand the state's aid." really hits home. You cannot tell me hat this posh school needs financial support from the taxpayers! Ha! Reading mojo is up and 'walking'...not running yet! Short stories by Irish author Elizabeth Bowen are perfect to kick start my reading day!

    1. Glad to hear your reading mojo is improving - short stories (Katherine Mansfield) got me going again too.
      So far the Aust govt seems to have been fair and decent about getting payments to those who need it most. Their disconnect was apparent in not realising how tough the regular folk do it. The shock on their faces when so many people lined up at Centrelink offices around the country the Monday after the weekend that all the cafes, restaurants, bars etc were forced to go to takeaway only to stay open made them realise (1) how casualised our workforce has become. So many people working without benefits or any work place guarantees or security (2) how many people only live with less than 2 weeks worth of savings in their bank accounts and (3) how many small & medium sized businesses were skating so close to the edge.
      Interesting times indeed.

  2. Economics makes my mind shut down. I'm terribly good with our family economy---spending only on necessities, saving a large percentage of our income, living frugally---but I get overwhelmed when I think about the bigger economies and what makes them go.

    Example: My dad, then in his mid-80s, had an investor contact him about wanting to buy a life insurance policy on him. The longer he lived, the more money the investor would make, the investor told my dad. What??? People do that? Why?

    1. Wow! Cold-calling life insurance. Didn't know you could do that? Most life-insurance policies these days in Australia are linked to our superannuation funds. You still have to pay attention to which boxes have been ticked and unticked and any changes in policy/legislation and which one actually suits your circumstances, and we've just had a major royal commission into the dodging dealings of banks and insurance companies across a number of areas, including calling people with disabilities. Which opened all our eyes to how unethical this field can be in the hands of many a practitioner.


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