Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Yanis Is on the Money

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Yanis Is on the Money

Article excerpt

Byline: WILLIAM LEITH

TALKING TO MY DAUGHTER ABOUT THE ECONOMY: A BRIEF HISTORY OF CAPITALISM by Yanis Varoufakis (Bodley Head ,PS14.99) WILLIAM LEITH YANIS Varoufakis, who was the Greek finance minister during the financial crisis, is a Left-wing economist with a 13-year-old daughter called Xenia. Here, he explains capitalism to her, in very simple and clear terms. If you're Left-wing, or even if you have doubts about market economies, you'll love his arguments because they're so easy to understand. If you're on the Right, you'll have a very clear idea of how your cleverest opponents think.

I'll try to whizz through quickly. At first, we were apes. Then we came down from the trees, learned to speak, and over-hunted our animal prey. Desperate, we invented farming, developed better tools and created more than we could eat: a surplus of grain which we kept in shared silos. Hence the need for writing, to keep track of who owned how much grain. We wrote on shells, which became tokens representing grain -- in other words, debt.

Of course, the people in charge of the grain hogged it. So they created religions, telling the masses they were the true representatives of God. This culture spread across Europe, Asia and the Middle East easily. But ideas can't spread so quickly through Africa and South America because of the deserts and jungles.

When we invented ships, trade flourished. Merchants got rich. This, for Varoufakis, is the turning point. Now landowners had to compete with merchants. So they ended the feudal system, chucked the serfs off their land and lent them money to come back and pay their debts by squeezing as much value out of the land as possible. So now everybody, from the landowner to the lowest serf, had dollar signs in his eyes. Profit was everything.

Enter modern finance. You get the picture. …

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