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Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 2, 2003
An extremist, disruptive version of capitalism, called neoliberalisim, now dominates the worldwide economic order. Practiced by huge transnational corporations and financial institutions with vast support from central governments, neoliberalism essentially transforms entire societies, destroying traditional ways of life and forcing individuals, sometimes with violence, to conform to its dictates. Not surprisingly, capitalistic institutions unleash immense propagandistic efforts to tout capitalism's unmatched outputs while obscuring the demands and burdens that it places on societies and individuals. "Naming the System" penetrates these purposeful obfuscations and describes the actual workings and impact of capitalism.
The field of neoclassical economics provides a theoretical basis for the workings of capitalism. Though now dominant in universities and economic institutions, the author repeatedly takes issue with its essential premises. Especially irritating is the unwillingness of neoclassical economists to acknowledge the "contradictions" of capitalism, that is, its failure to deliver as predicted. It is difficult to not come to the conclusion that the entire discipline of neoclassical economics is subservient to the business class.
Neoclassical economic theory posits "individuals," all seeking to maximize their self-interests by freely operating in various marketplace settings, as the core actors in capitalism. According to the theory, this "free-market" activity operates within the context of fundamental laws of supply and demand, and will result in socially optimal outcomes. However, to regard all market actors as essentially equal "individuals" is highly misrepresentative. Multi-billion dollar corporations often can monopolize markets, manipulate consumers through advertising, and otherwise leverage their tremendous advantages in resources. But neoclassical economists are loath to admit that the dynamics of power, inequality, and coercion can tilt markets.
A huge gap in the theory of the general benevolence of markets is that a society of self-interested maximizers will often fail to generate even basic, needed social outcomes. Conveniently, neoclassical economists leave it to governments to fill in where markets fail by doing such things as building roads and bridges, providing for national defense and public schools, and providing a legal structure and the enforcement necessary to conduct business. Neoclassicists are far less sanguine about the need to regulate or otherwise deal with the side effects of marketplace actions. According to the theory, self-interested businesses do not have to deal with the social effects of causing environmental degradation in production, laying-off workers, or paying poverty-level wages, because the marketplace will. However, it is simply not likely that the random acts of relatively uninformed and powerless individuals will be aggregated sufficiently to affect social outcomes through the marketplace. Neoclassicists insist that market actors always exercise "free choice." Of course, they have to ignore the fact that such factors as the lack of actual equal opportunity to be well educated and to associate with employment enhancing individuals and the subtle coercion of a large pool of unemployed workers are not freely chosen conditions and do undermine free-market activity.
The author insists that capitalism, or its latest incarnation as neoliberalism, be judged on its worldwide economic performance. Many Third World nations, in exchange for economic assistance, under directives by international, neoliberal economic bodies, such as the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO, have accordingly opened their economies to global corporations and liberalizing economic forces. But results have hardly been encouraging. Since 1980 there has been no growth in per capita GDP in these countries and they have fallen further behind rich nations, not drawing nearer as predicted. Structural adjustment policies have forced millions of peasants from their lands into sprawling urban ghettos with only sporadic contingent and informal sector work available. It is hard to resist the conclusion that neoliberalism is a mechanism to disadvantage working people and to permit global corporations to exploit them.
The author acknowledges that capitalism can produce a vast array of goods, but that productivity comes at a cost to societies and individuals. Though neoclassicists declared capitalism to be recession proof in the 1990s, capitalism has always lurched from crisis to crisis with a lot of discomfort being delivered to the working class with each recession. Loss of a job can be devastating, but capitalism also relentlessly redefines the nature of work. Capitalism is unconcerned about the inherent worthiness and importance of having and doing meaningful work. It persistently deskills jobs by breaking them into sub-tasks and subjecting them to automation and mechanization. Fewer and fewer workers are permitted to conceptualize, plan, and execute their work in a complete process.
Neoliberal spokesmen often hold that capitalism and democracy are essentially one and the same. But the author points out that it is a fundamental contradiction of capitalism that the freedom that both employers and workers supposedly enjoy when meeting in the labor market disguises a regime of total control within workplaces. It is that unchallengeable control that permits owners to squeeze excessive profits from workplaces. The author digresses with an explanation of Marx's labor theory of value, but the issue is really one of relative power.
Capitalism subtly redefines freedom and democracy. Democracy is no longer located in the political realm involving decision making; it has become the freedom to participate in the marketplace, to act in one's best interest. Social or collective concerns need not trouble an individual self-maximizer - the market will do that automatically. But it has been the collective actions of labor unions and worker-centered political parties that have attempted to tame the worst excesses of capitalism. But the effectiveness of labor unions has often been reduced through both repression and cooptation.
Some radicals contend that the contradictions of capitalism are becoming so evident that it is a foregone conclusion that the working class will become a potent force in their own liberation. But the author is not so enamored of those prospects. The reaction of workers to the depredations of capitalism is often psychological self-destruction, not some form of activism. In addition, capitalism has proven to be highly resilient to challenges. It can usually call upon the full power of the state to defend its interests. And the ideology of consumerism is pervasive and subtly distorting, even equating shopping with revolutionary actions.
Understanding the nature and contradictions of capitalism is certainly a place to begin to contest it. This book does its part well.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2003
I am not an economist, but some of my best friends are. And much of my work as a labor law professor, has involved dealing with ideas couched in economic terms. Even so, there is a lot about economics as it is really practiced, that comes as a surprise. Several years, when the news was full of predictions from leading economists about the effects of a new policy on the economy, I asked a group of economists whether these sorts of predictions were based on studies of effects in the world. The economists told me that these predictions none of these predictions were ever tested. All that was ever done was to create simplified theories about how the economy worked and then use those theories to make predictions. No one ever checked to make certain those theories were valid.
Imagine what healthcare would be like if doctors and scientists operated this way. Actually, we don't have to imagine. This is how life was in the Middle Ages when doctors tried to balance the body's four humors, and everyone knew the sun revolved around the earth. The models got more and more complex as reality did not jibe with theory.
So all of us have our fates determined by economists whose methods are no more up to date than the 16th century. Consider Alan Greenspan, the hero of the Fed. He and his colleagues for years were convinced that the only way to fight inflation - and inflation had to be fought at all costs - was to raise interest rates any time unemployment fell below 5.8%. The effect was that higher interest rates increased unemployment. In the early 1990's, unemployment began to fall below this danger level, but no inflation appeared. Pressure was put on the Fed not to raise interest rates, enough pressure that they held off. Unemployment plunged ever lower with no inflation. Did the economists admit that their theory had to be discarded based on the evidence/ Of course not. They responded that they needed to refine the theory to account for this aberration from the theory, but the theory was still solid.
Michael Yates does a much better job at leading the reader through classic economic theory and exploring the many ways in which those theories stand unproven - and yet they still rule the world. Yates provides a fair and balanced look at the claims of classic economics for economies and for global trade and demonstrates that there is no evidence to support those claims.
There is no question that Michael Yates is passionate and has strong opinions. He does nothing to hide his views and is fair and open with the reader as he presents his arguments against classical economics and his ideas as to what should replace those disproven theories. I won't even try to summarize the. Yates deserves to be read and his arguments digested in full.
Yates is a wonderful writer and educator. He should be. He had a long teaching career at University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, among prisoners, and with unionists. He is clear without ever talking down to his audiences. Over the years he has opened up the world of economics to many of us, and through this book will reach even more. I recommend it strongly.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2003
Leading labor analyst Michael Yates successfully strives to explain why the economic boom of the 1990s benefitted the wealthiest segment of business and society while doing little for the hard-working masses in Naming The System: Inequality And Work In The Global Economy. Aptly discussing a series of related issues including the inequalities that riddle the economic system of capitalism by its very nature (both within and between nations); unemployment and underemployment; contradictions within capitalism; and means for social change that battle for a better world, Naming The System is an accessible and serious economic presentation which has self-evidently been deftly researched and is skillfully argued. A welcome addition to personal and academic Economics Studies reference collections and reading lists, Naming The System is especially recommended to the attention of anyone wanting to understand the rationale behind the importance of placing limits and regulations to ensure a prosperous future for labor and management alike.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2003
I am not an economist, but some of my best friends are. And much of my work as a labor law professor, has involved dealing with ideas couched in economic terms. Even so, there is a lot about economics as it is really practiced, that comes as a surprise.
Several years, when the news was full of predictions from leading economists about the effects of a new policy on the economy, I asked a group of economists whether these sorts of predictions were based on studies of effects in the world. The economists told me that these predictions none of these predictions were ever tested. All that was ever done was to create simplified theories about how the economy worked and then use those theories to make predictions. No one ever checked to make certain those theories were valid.
Imagine what healthcare would be like if doctors and scientists operated this way. Actually, we don't have to imagine. This is how life was in the Middle Ages when doctors tried to balance the body's four humors, and everyone knew the sun revolved around the earth. The models got more and more complex as reality did not jibe with theory.
So all of us have our fates determined by economists whose methods are no more up to date than the 16th century. Consider Alan Greenspan, the hero of the Fed. He and his colleagues for years were convinced that the only way to fight inflation - and inflation had to be fought at all costs - was to raise interest rates any time unemployment fell below 5.8%. The effect was that higher interest rates increased unemployment. In the early 1990's, unemployment began to fall below this danger level, but no inflation appeared. Pressure was put on the Fed not to raise interest rates, enough pressure that they held off. Unemployment plunged ever lower with no inflation. Did the economists admit that their theory had to be discarded based on the evidence/ Of course not. They responded that they needed to refine the theory to account for this aberration from the theory, but the theory was still solid.
Michael Yates does a much better job at leading the reader through classic economic theory and exploring the many ways in which those theories stand unproven - and yet they still rule the world. Yates provides a fair and balanced look at the claims of classic economics for economies and for global trade and demonstrates that there is no evidence to support those claims.
There is no question that Michael Yates is passionate and has strong opinions. He does nothing to hide his views and is fair and open with the reader as he presents his arguments against classical economics and his ideas as to what should replace those disproven theories. I won't even try to summarize the. Yates deserves to be read and his arguments digested in full.
Yates is a wonderful writer and educator. He should be. He had a long teaching career at University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, among prisoners, and with unionists. He is clear without ever talking down to his audiences. Over the years he has opened up the world of economics to many of us, and through this book will reach even more. I recommend it strongly.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2006
Yates' book "Naming the System" is a valiant attempt to explain the failures, contradictions and problems of modern globalized capitalism in terms understandable to every layman. By and large, he has succeeded, though there are some flaws.

His strongest point is reconciling the arguments against the orthodox neoclassical theory of "more free markets = better" with the 'facts on the ground', in the form of valuable statistics and examples from practical experience. He enthousiastically destroys the reformist view of capitalism as followed by many social-democrats and current-day labor union leaders just as much as the libertarian approach. In addition to that, he gives a worthwhile overview of the Marxist interpretation of capitalism and why it is better able to explain certain commonplace phenomena in firm practice than the neoclassicals. Finally, he gives a non-too-critical overview of the great variety of leftist anti-capitalist movements in the world today and some general perspectives on their success, though all this is very vague.

The books great benefits are the easy to understand ways in which he shows the workings of capitalism in the many kinds of injustice felt by (young) leftist-inclined people, giving them a more solid ground for their critiques. However, this accessible approach is also the big downside to Yates' work: "Naming the System" is not in-depth at all, its wording is a little simplistic and childish sometimes, and it is virtually useless to those who already have a basic Marxist understanding of the capitalist world. Nevertheless, the book is worth four stars for its excellent utility as an education book on the Marxist approach for young people (high school and students), much like Naomi Klein's book was for the anti-branding movement.
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on November 25, 2014
As a university student and a full-time employee I have had many questions about 'the system' and it's injustices. Yates book clarifies Capitalism and its destructive tendencies and elucidates Marx's theories and beliefs in a way that our current society does not. It has been invaluable in shaping my reaction and beliefs about the economy.
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4 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2003
This man lives in a world od distorted reality. Economic equality and poverty is bound to exist reguardless of the mode of production. Capitalism allows democracy, which is the most important issue to me. He talks about Cuba in this book... The have to give up freedom and live in poverty, but their literacy level is the same as our's; which system sounds better? Tjis was a well written book wth ample information, so I probably should have rated it better. However, I hate the message that it sends.
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