by Stephen Tall on April 9, 2009
Last week saw the publication of Lib Dem deputy leader Vince Cable’s opus, The Storm: The World Economic Crisis and What It Means. (Amazon did eventually deliver my copy, you’ll be pleased to know).
On this page we’ll be collating the reviews published to date, and are inviting you to submit your own reviews – whether as articles for Lib Dem Voice, or briefly in the comments field below.
One plea: if you’re inspired to write something here, please do also leave it as a comment on Amazon – it’s more likely to reach non-Lib Dems there than here!
Here are the media reviews published to date:
VINCE CABLE is a phenomenon of our troubled times. By some measure, Mr Cable, the economics spokesman of the Liberal Democrats, the smallest of Britain’s big three political parties, is the most popular politician in Britain. In any putative government of national unity, he would be the default choice to be chancellor of the exchequer. What is all the more remarkable about Mr Cable’s improbable standing is that he is admired in almost equal measure by other politicians and a cynical public.
the little book that Mr Cable, a former chief economist with Shell, has written to explain the economic crisis and to offer his prescriptions for dealing with it will reach a wider and more receptive audience than most such tracts. It deserves to do so. As an account of what happened and why, it is both admirably clear of befuddling jargon and authoritative in its range and detail.
This could easily have been an “I told you so” account, but Cable largely resists the temptation. Instead he offers a entertaining guide through the “Alice in Wonderland” financial world that evolved in the early years of the 21st century, and gives warning of the dangers that lie ahead if politicians draw the wrong conclusions. …
Mr Cable has a sharp turn of phrase, which he deploys to leaven the bleak economic narrative. Surveying the “ninja” (no income, no job or assets) loansthat the US banks offered to poor people – seen by some at the time as a means for increasing social mobility – Cable says these were borrowers the bankers would not have wanted in their golf clubs. “Philanthropy can be discounted,” he says. “Poor people have one great attraction. Because they are poor, and have a poor credit history, they can be charged relatively high interest rates.” …
His stark analysis of the causes of the economic crisis is not, however, mirrored in any startling remedy for future action. As a liberal, Cable holds a centrist position, which tends towards the need for a prudent reregulation of financial markets to counter the endemic risk of bubbles, panics and crashes.
He places himself between the “New Interventionists” – whose policies he fears could lead ultimately to state capitalism, economic nationalism and protectionism – and the “Old Liberals” who argue that markets can fail in more-regulated centres such as New York, just as they did in the more permissive City of London.
Cable makes some wonderful points. It’s just a shame the Liberal Democrats will always be seen as a third party, as it’s hard for many people to turn down the ex-Shell chief economist as a member of any ruling party. It makes you wonder why he’s not in charge of the party, more than anything else.
The thing that people ought to give Cable credit for is how he has the guts to be able to respond quickly and effortlessly to the crisis at hand, weighing up the ramifications of the current situation and presenting them in an easy-to-read and short account which is well explained and free from glaring mistakes. The solid mentions of Northern Rock as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have added to this contemporaneous account which truly should be handed to every MP and lord in the houses of parliament.
The Storm, then, is best judged not as polemic or manifesto but simply as a piece of analysis. The subject is the post-Lehmans world economy, from the credit crunch to the rise of China. The book is wide-ranging, informed, balanced, calm and well-paced. The logic is always clear and the explanations are cogent, even if the writing is not especially gripping. Cable has often been ahead of the curve, but publishing a book in the teeth of a fast-moving crisis does not allow him that position here. Yet his analysis seems up-to-the-minute.
Vince Cable is the only British politician to emerge from the credit crunch a star. This mild, uncharismatic man seemed to typify economics as the dismal science, until he found sudden fame and fortune with his plain-man’s comments on catastrophe. Now he is never off the airwaves. This 181-page book will not disappoint his fans. It is a lucid guide to the present mess, faltering only at the final turn. Cable is treasury spokesman for the Liberal Democrats and when analysis turns to prescription, he is afflicted by the same confusion and indecision as everyone else. This perhaps makes his book an even more authentic record of these wretched times. … True to his party, Cable is at heart a nostalgic optimist, an old liberal yearning for a better yesterday and comfortable in the presence of the conventional wisdom.
it would be wrong to see The Storm as an exercise in “I told you so”. He has the occasional dig at Labour and the Conservatives but his book is analytical rather than party political. … Both the major parties bought into the fantasy that the City represented the future and manufacturing the past. … Cable, who is unusual for a modern politician in having some hands-on experience of life in the private sector – he worked as an economist for Shell – says that a “brutal reappraisal” is now under way. … For a book that has obviously been turned around quickly in response both to the deepening of the crisis last autumn and Cable’s growing reputation at Westminster, The Storm is remarkably error-free and well written.
It is probably the best book you can read to understand what on earth is going on out there, and does the sort of job that those blood-red Penguin Specials did decades ago. For the intelligent layman, it chronicles complex events as it explains them, pulling in just the right amount of wit, history, anecdote and theory along the way. In fact, the book is a much broader tour d’horizon of the contemporary economic scene than just an account of the credit crunch … he is in truth less a liberal and more of an old-fashioned social democrat who never embraced the sort of punk Thatcherism that New Labour fell for. It is difficult to argue with Cable’s conclusions: that the idea that property ownership as a one-way ticket to prosperity and a pension has been “a lie”; that foreign ownership of UK economic assets such as the car industry and the utilities does matter; and that neglect of manufacturing and skills have left us in an economy where “only Polish immigrants know how to repair leaking pipes and lay a brick”.