Talking to My Daughter Daughter About the Economy uses historical context to explain an aspect of the modern world. It’s similar in spirit to Harari’s blockbuster title Sapiens, which looks at the role of governments, religion, and technology through the lens of history. Varoufakis tries to do the same with markets, debt and inequality, with limited success.
The problem is Varoufakis gets drawn away from his core message by zeitgeisty topics like AI, robots, philosophy and happiness. Instead of speaking with authority, the author leans on janky analogies to The Matrix and Star Trek which serve to muddle the arguments rather than clarify them. What I thought was an objective, compassionate account of the history of economics became the preachings of a futurist/life coach.
In saying that, there are a few gems to be mined from this short title. I liked the differentiation between experience and exchange value. The market pays no attention to the former (strolling through a sunlit forest) and places all emphasis on the later (the value of wood that can be harvested from said forest).
I also recommend researching the Radford prison camp, detailed in the book’s fantastic seventh chapter, which describes the emergence of a micro-economy in a German prison-of-war camp during WWII. As prisoners start bartering food and cigarettes, abstract concepts like interest and inflation start to rear their heads, offering readers a renewed understanding of their role in the macroeconomy.
Unfortunately chapter seven is a beacon of light in an otherwise confused book that sacrifices objectivity for something closer to propaganda. I’m not particularly opposed or aligned with Varoufakis’ world view, but the way it is argued makes me think a more suitable title might have been ‘Talking at My Daughter About the Economy’.