Nils Ole Hagen
Hagen is freelance critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

By cutting the principles of capitalism to the bone and by using language that is straightforward, Yanis Varoufakis pulls out the essence of modern economy.

The Greek professor of economics Yaris Varoufakis should be known to Norwegian readers through his part as finance minister (from January to July 2015) and politician under the economical crisis in Greece from 2008 onwards.

His book Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism, published for the first time in 2013 and updated in connection with the new release, is written as a long letter to Varoufakis’ teenage daughter Xenia, who has travelled to Australia to study. The writer wants her to get familiarised with real and large correlations in the world in relation to the global world economy’s beginning and development. In addition, the book is just as much about how the global economy is working today, a topic that should concern most people.

Simplification

Through very few pages Varoufakis manages, by simplifying and using fine storytelling, to distil the essence of what modern economy really is about. He quotes the Greek mathematician Archimedes in the text who allegedly talked about “the law of the lever” by using the Earth as an example: “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world!” This means that with a pole that is long enough, he would be able to move the planet Earth only with one single hand movement. With this, Varoufakis shows that by looking at the way in which the world economy works from a distant perspective one can quite easily do something to change it, assuming one wants to.

«The book is just as much about how the global economy is working today, a topic that should concern most people.»

The writer has consciously removed several terms in his descriptions, and the most evident is perhaps that he avoids the word “capitalism.” The storytelling techniques are also effective in other ways, in which strategy is used in the form of a dialogue. He often introduces a chapter with a personal experience from summertime on one of the Greek islands–the birthplace of the ancient Greek culture. This serves as a basis for his further anecdotes where, among others, Homer’s achievements are mentioned. Varoufakis commutes unforced between literary and practical examples to illuminate relations of the world economy, and these work as bridges that guide the readers over a complicated and abstract theoretical-economical terrain.

Money and Debt

It has been said from as far back as the early nineties that “the great story” is dead, and we can easily say that Varoufakis brings it back. A wide historical tableau of examples is woven together from the history of economy, money and debt. Varoufakis’ great story opens with an anecdote about how the money system of old Mesopotamia emerged around year 600 BCE. Thereafter the writer explains how money and debt have been an inseparable couple throughout history.

Yanis Varoufakis

As a red thread, emphasis is placed on how a working market economy cannot be imagined without its twin, debt, by its side. This is one of the reasons why we can see the development of economy as a hazardous journey; the twins are always standing in an unstable and tense relation to each other. With the example from the cradle of civilisation in the old river cultures, Varoufakis shows what was one of Marx’s most central points, that work truly is the real determinative value in all economy.

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