the friend online
18 July 2008

A house of cards

Judy Kirby reviews a useful analysis of capitalism and the economy

A House of Cards: from fantasy finance to global crash by
Gerry Gold & Paul Feldman. Lupus Books.
ISBN 978-0-9523454-3-5. £3.

This is a book to make your head spin. The demonic rise of capitalism in its global mantle is charted in thunderous tones and relentless recital of all the ghastly fallout from globalisation. It's hard not to agree wholeheartedly with the authors as they deconstruct the entire consumerist society to expose the capitalist engine at its centre. All our current woes stem from profit-motivated transnational corporate greed, which has been given full rein for the past thirty years and is now strangling the planet, from climatic degradation to debt-laden economic disaster.

Capitalism, which the authors point out has only 200 years on the clock, contains the seeds of its own destruction. In a telling observation quoted from Jeremy Rifkind, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, this becomes apparent: 'If dramatic advances in productivity can replace more and more human labour, resulting in more workers being let go from the workforce, where will the consumer demand come from to buy all the potential new products and services? We are being forced to face up to an inherent contradiction at the heart of our market economy that has been present since the very beginning, but is only now becoming irreconcilable.'

After an impressive demolition job on the market economy, the authors surprise us with their solution. Yes, it's still revolution comrades, with corporate ownership of the means of production swept away but this time with a cannier alternative. Capitalism can be recycled like any household waste. We don't need to abandon the scientific revolution, the communications highway and sophisticated means of measuring demand. These need to be the tools of a new and vibrant co-operative movement based on the universally admired principles of the Rochdale pioneers. The authors are associated with the international organisation A World to Win, which is actively campaigning for a co-operatively owned and managed not-for-profit economy. It might all seem small beer to those of us overwhelmed by the scope and transitory nature of big business, but these authors have faith that co-ownership of companies can develop into a movement creating sustainable consumerism serviced by fulfilled employees. The book notes that the employee-owned John Lewis Partnership runs two of the nation's favourite shops – Waitrose and John Lewis.

The present political system is too discredited to bring about change, say the authors, a view gaining ground. 'Governments and states have become voluntary warders patrolling the global economy on behalf of the corporations,' they believe. Instead they predict a coming together of many dissatisfied groups – consumerist, climate change, anti-war and anti-poverty campaigns linking in a coalition to bring change.

But one has to glance at the opposition before being carried away with these heady ideas. There are many proponents of globalisation, in finance, business and communications. Take Fareed Zakaria, the Newsweek columnist and editor, who thinks the globalised market economy has lifted many poor countries out of poverty. He is less interested in the decline of America than in what he calls 'the rise of the rest.' In a recent Newsweek article he proclaimed that the underlying reality across the world is one of enormous vitality. 'For the first time ever', he wrote, 'most countries around the world are practising sensible economics. Consider inflation. Over the past twenty years hyperinflation, a problem that used to bedevil large swathes of the world from Turkey to Brazil to Indonesia, has largely vanished, tamed by successful fiscal and monetary policies. The results are clear and stunning. The share of people living on $1 a day has plummeted from forty per cent in 1981 to eighteen percent in 2004 and is estimated to drop to twelve percent by 2015.'

But we may part company with Zakaria when we hear him count as success the fact that the tallest buildings, biggest dams and most advanced mobile phones will soon be coming from 'the rise of the rest' and not America.

The Friend provides fresh insight with news about and of interest to Quakers every week, in depth thought and reasoning through our comment, opinion and analysis pages, features that bring vibrancy to Quakerism, as well as reviews and arts pages that add to Quaker culture. Subscribe here.

Judy Kirby


This week's .pdf
In this week's online edition... rss edition
Quaker charity leads the way in tackling financial exclusion
Tough times for war resisters in Canada despite parliament’s help
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FUM Triennial news
Oliver Robertson
Scottish government says no to Circles
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Challenging consumerism
Judith Moran
Mary Barnes & Ann Frost

The power of microcredit
Jennifer Kavanagh
Tackling financial exclusion
Esther de Jong
A house of cards
Judy Kirby
A selfish gene?
Edward Mackay
With Friends like these
Oliver Robertson
Is there a gap?
Stephen Cox

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