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Doubleday, 414 pages
Review by Tom Gallagher
It is the entrepreneurs who know the rules of the world and the laws of God.” Could you imagine reading dozens of books filled with stuff just as loopy as this pronouncement from George Gilder, the country's leading economic cheerleader? Well, Thomas Frank has done that, and if you read One Market Under God, you'll be both glad that he did, and mighty appreciative that it was he rather than you who plowed through such gems of contemporary management theory as God Wants You To Be Rich, Greed Is Good, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, and Who Moved My Cheese?
Frank, an editor of The Baffler, a magazine of cultural criticism, takes a lot of people seriously who don't deserve to be, not because of the intellectual content of their work, but because of their undeniable impact on American culture at large and on at least a few people who are taken very seriously, like Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman, the New York Times' twin towers of ideological probity.
From his lofty heights as the globalization beat reporter on the paper of record in the indispensable nation, Friedman describes a “whole world (turned) into a parliamentary system,” where people “vote every hour, every day through their mutual funds, their pension funds, their brokers, and more and more, from their own basements via the internet.” Not only does this “market democracy's” substitution of a “one dollar-one vote” standard for the tradition of “one person-one vote” not trouble Friedman, but he also predicts that it won't bother too many others either: “I don't think there will be an alternative ideology this time around.”
Certainly the “new economy” has worked its share of wonders. Priceline.com hired William Shat- ner to tell the world that it was going to be “big, really big,” and the next thing we knew the total stock value of this company that sold discount airline tickets was twice that of United Airlines. Way cool. The fact that no new value had been created in the process mattered not a whit to the folks who knew that the money you got from your inflated Priceline.com stock was real enough.
This ability to “create...wealth by acclamation” has created both its own public boosterism—since “badmouthing the market...could very well bring on crash, disaster, war,”—as well as business theories Frank finds “so elementary they could have been lifted from the back of cereal boxes,” and some really weird ones as well.
Day-trading is “Zen-like.” “Destruction is cool,” therefore corporations should have Chief Destructive Officers. The cover of Fortune tells us to, “Cannibalize Yourself.” Motivational speakers advise that “History is for cowards and losers.” Account Planners derive insight into the meaning of brand names from the study of evolutionary psychology. Tom Peters, of In Search of Excellence fame, finds the new economy so profoundly different that “Now... the people who lift ‘things'...are the new parasites living off the carpal-tunnel syndrome of the computer programmers' perpetually strained keyboard hands.”
Although much of this book is a hoot, Frank continually reminds us that a lot of people apparently in the thrall of some silly “new economic age” thinking are actually making decisions that affect the rest of us, even attempting to replace such elements of economic democracy as we actually have—in the form of unions and government programs like Social Security—with the “magic” of the market.
Of course, exigencies carried over from the old economy—like food and shelter—have a way of intruding upon the fantasies of the new economy. So we read that the workers of etown, an Internet company providing information on consumer electronics, recently petitioned for a union representation election because, no matter how much the Internet may have enriched their lives, they found it difficult to live in San Francisco on their current wages of $420 to $640 per week.
This would have been the first such vote ever to be held in a dot-com company, but for the fact that the company went under. But we can be sure this won't be the last “dot.communist” union drive, because as Frank says, ideology can never overcome “the resilient language of democracy.” Z
Tom Gallagher is an activist and freelance writer living in California.