D’Souza (Ronald Reagan, 1997, etc.) tells us what’s right, and what’s wrong, with our brave, new, prosperous world.
Folks are getting rich quick everywhere, thanks to a booming stock market and dross-to-gold Internet start-ups. And while America has always been rich, this rich is a new kind of rich—marked in part by the young super-rich, like 20-year-old Yale undergrad Joshua Newman, who runs a $6 million venture-capital fund. But the wealthy, D’Souza argues, are mired in moral quandaries: how did I get so lucky? Do I deserve these riches? The new wealth has done more than make a few millionaires feel guilty; it has also produced a larger critique of society. The stock-market boom and rampant consumer capitalism, say critics, are destroying American values—destroying the environment, tampering with religion, widening the gap between rich and poor. One-time ideological foes, like leftist Studs Terkel and conservative Gertrude Himmelfarb, can meet and agree on this much: our bank accounts are richer, but our society is poorer. And there’s another critique, less articulate, but no less heartfelt: the ones “left behind,” the Hollywood waitresses who aren’t making it on the silver screen, the college geeks who aren’t founding the next big Web site, are outraged and self-righteous. Why do they have to flip burgers while Julia Roberts suns at her pool? But capitalism is not all bad, D’Souza says, because even those waitresses who aren’t making millions still lead a pretty good life. They drive nice cars and have wide-screen TVs. Will these “consolation prize[s] . . . appease” them? D’Souza thinks not: the lower-middle classes won’t rise up in armed rebellion; they will sink into despair. His thesis is richly illustrated with fascinating anecdotes, but the yarns D’Souza tells fail to offer much in the way of prognosis, lending an unfinished quality to his overall portrait.
Read it for its reporting, not its insights—which are few.