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One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism and the End of Economic Democracy Hardcover – October 17, 2000
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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)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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He documents the creepy cultural trends that have made us accept the marketplace as our ersatz democracy, why we've given up on the real version, and whom these trends really serve.
Is modern culture really a tool used by the powers that be to undo the New Deal? It makes sense.
I say this in the full knowledge that Frank devotes an entire chapter to my profession, in "The Brand and the Intellectual". When I finished reading it, I thought, "I deserved that!"
The largest strength of this book is not that it offers any sort of alternative (It really doesn't), it is that he is criticizing things that need to be criticized. Over the last 20 years or so, critical writing and commentary has lapsed, and offered little voice of reform or change. It is nice to see that someone offers dissent to many cultural values that have become solidified and crusty (even if it is at 90+dB).
In an age of blind faith in "The Market" there is a voice of skepticism in Thomas Frank's _One Market Under God_. If you are a God fearing, Capitalist-loving, Market Driven, person, this book may be especially valuable to read -- if for no other reason, to hear from someone who disagrees with you and has no fear in stating it clearly!
I disagree with a lot of his thesis, but I cannot give this book anything less than 5 stars!
As with all the Thomas Frank books I've read thus far -- and I plan to read them all -- this book is true, accurate, fact-checkable, bankable...and really, really depressing. I do not see America walking away from this idea any time soon.
To make matters much worse, Frank's book is extraordinarily redundant. He repeats again and again the same examples of market populism offered by the same authors as an effective ideological counter to economic democracy. It's difficult to concentrate and not lose your place when Frank tells you the same thing five or six times over the course of ten or twenty pages. It's even worse when he does this in a run-on, manic sort of way. It was once said of the late neo-conservative intellectual Herman Kahn that he dictated his books, and his output was constrained only by the speed of the typist who was taking it all down. It could be that Frank's book was written in the same way, and then never edited for lack of organization, insufferable repetition, and absence of readability.
In spite of all that, Frank seems to have a good argument to make in explaining how and why we have been effectively disarmed when faced with plutocracy and outright fraud. Sadly, however, it's not an argument he ever gets around to making. Instead, we get an amorphous jumble of names, references, neologisms, words rarely used in everyday discourse (just how many of his readers went to our online dictionary to look up "quotidian"), and abrupt, often pointless changes in direction. All this gives rise to a powerful yearning to put the book down without finishing it, as in "If he refers to Norman Rockwell one more time I'm going to burn this thing!" For those of us who for some neurotic reason feel obliged to finish what we start, One Market Under God is a real chore. What a disappointment.
Yes, there is surely something wrong when a ripped-off citizenry reveres those ripping them off, or just dismisses it all and sucks it up with "more power to 'em." Maybe Frank really does understand why the victims don't object, but you can't be sure from reading the word salad that constitutes One Market Under God. And by the way, Thomas Friedman is not the only regular columnist for the New York Times. Friedman may have bought the "miracle of the marketplace" nonsense hook, line, and sinker, but what about Paul Krugman, Nicholas Kristof, Bob Herbert, and even the determinedly chic and trendy Maureen Dowd? These are folks who know popularized technocratic nonsense when they hear it. Frank is entirely too selective in his sources.
Even if we acknowledge that Frank was not trying to produce objective scholarship or even fair-minded journalism, but a polemic against deceit and high-tech sloganeering, his book fails the test of credibility. In addition to the difficulties already mentioned, there is too much backing and filling: Frank will frenetically ramble on for ten or fifteen pages recounting the sins and successes of specific blue-jean billionaires publishing a new markets-are-amazing magazine that's taking the country by storm, and then in a paragraph or two acknowledge that he exaggerated their attainments, though they were still estimable, but then continue on as if he had never broken stride. Free association, stream-of-consciousness, just sit down and write whatever comes to mind and call it a book. I wouldn't mind so much, but this is the sort of thing that gives badly needed critical evaluations of the way our world works a bad name. It's self-indulgent verbosity, and it's destructive.
The reader has to wonder just how the substance of the new managerial literature, replete with informality, anti-elitism, and rejection of traditional corporate practices, becomes known to the workers. Are we expected to believe that they read this crap? Maybe it's just through occasional exposure to those who do. In a recently settled strike at a Mott's apple sauce plant in Rochester, N.Y., the workers took it on the chin again. During the course of the strike, union members and shop stewards were startled, incredulous, and humiliated when management told them very directly that they were just a factor of production, easily replaceable, bought and sold in labor markets, and of no distinctive value. The workers were mortified. Given Frank's claims for the hegemony of the new markets-are-marvelous ethos, hardly what one would expect. Apparently these workers and their imperious, brutally hard-nosed managers hadn't gotten the message about marketplace populism and the new management outlook.
Which raises a question: Yes, books like Orbiting the Giant Hairball and The Fifth Discipline continue to sell quite well, but to whom? Who actually reads them, and with what effect. Almost without exception the books and magazines that constitute the market-worshiping and new management literature are written by entrepreneurs making scads of money. What they've given us is self-improvement literature -- "You can be rich like me!" -- not unlike Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, first published in 1936 and still selling quite well. The same people who watch Donald Trump's TV show "The Apprentice." hoping to learn how to do better in the job market, may be the most avid consumers of this junk.
I don't know for sure who reads this stuff, but neither does Frank, another reason why his book is unpersuasive and why he, as an author, is ill-prepared. He gets on a plane, finds a copy of "INC." magazine with an article that says SAS (Statistical Analysis Software) continues to grow because it is "young, vital, and giddy with potential," and Frank leaps emphatically and head-long to the conclusion that this is the way most people think. But totally without substantiation. By the way, anyone who has dealt with SAS or with its technical consultants knows that it's a consumer-take-the-hindmost corporation that seems to seek out arrogant nerds to present its face to the public, assuring that most users of their products end up feeling stupid.
Perhaps as time passes, Frank will get over the need to exaggerate and put on display his selective erudition and his voracious appetite for TV commercials and magazine ads. If he is actually engaged in an ongoing maturation process, I wish him the best.
If you have an interest in advertising, marketing and or American sociology within the modern "consumer" context, this book is for you. Further, regardless of your political/ideological leanings, if you are intelligent and prize facts regardless of how they make you feel (assuming you have an interest in the subject area of the book), you will appreciate this book.