After nearly a decade of bull markets, Americans have come to equate free markets with democracy. Never one for mincing words, social critic Thomas Frank, editor of The Baffler
and author of The Conquest of Cool
, challenges this myth. With his acerbic wit and contempt for sophistry, he declares the New Economy a fraud. Frank scours business literature, management theory, and marketing and advertising to expose the elaborate fantasies that have inoculated business against opposition. This public relations campaign joins an almost mystical belief in markets, a contempt for government in any form, and an "ecstatic" confusion of markets with democracy. Frank traces the roots of this movement from the 1920s, and sees its culmination in market populism as a fusion of the rebellious '60s with the greedy '80s. The overarching irony is the swapping of roles--suddenly Wall Street is no longer full of stodgy moneygrubbers, but cool entrepreneurs "leaping on their trampolines, typing out a few last lines on the laptop before paragliding, riding their bicycles to work, listening to Steppenwolf while they traded." Meanwhile, "Americans traded their long tradition of electoral democracy for the democracy of the supermarket, where all brands are created equal and endowed by their creators with all sorts of extremeness and diversity." Frank's close reading of the salesmen of market populism nails such financial gurus as George Gilder, Joseph Nocera, Kevin Kelly, and Thomas Friedman. Their writings, he contends, have served to make "the world safe for billionaires" by winning the cultural and political battle--legitimizing the corporate culture and its demands for privatization, deregulation, and non-interference. Frank's incisive prose verges on brilliant at times, though his yen for repetition can be exasperating. In either case, his boisterous reminder that markets are fundamentally not democracies is worth repeating as the level of wealth polarization in America reaches heights not seen since the 1920s. --Lesley Reed
From Publishers Weekly
An incisive and incendiary survey of today's cultural, political and economic landscape, social critic Frank's latest salvo conclude, that the New Economy is a fraud, management literature and theory are nothing but self-serving forms of public relations, and that, despite its self-congratulatory commercials, business is not cool. During the recent economic boom, he argues, our nation's hallowed tradition of political populism has morphed into market populism, a reverence for financial success in the marketplace as the ultimate authority of all that is good and true. Frank, founding editor of the Baffler magazine and author of The Conquest of Cool, thinks he knows who is to blame and he names names. The list is long and makes irresistible reading. Distilling vast research into highly readable volleys, he backs up his rage against the received orthodoxies of the New Economy, globalization and free markets with hard facts. He shows the resemblance between the banking crisis of the 1930s and present banking practices and demonstrates that income inequality is on the rise with the richest 10% controlling over 70% of the nation's wealth. Heaping contempt on those he views as old-fashioned hucksters turned out in hipsters' clothing, he nominates such self-proclaimed pundits as George Gilder, the Motley Fools, best-selling author Spencer Johnson and the Body Shop's Anita Roddick to his personal Hall of Shame. A fierce and informed advocate for core American political values, Frank offers a critique of the way business has taken over American society that is especially resonant in this election year. (Nov. 1)
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