In most eyes, the New Economy deserves a good tattooing, and Left Business Observer editor Henwood (Wall Street, 1997) slowly and excruciatingly applies the needle: “This book is an exercise in kicking the thing while it’s down, to make sure it won’t get up again.”
After the fall, it was easy to poke fun at the snake oil peddled by the New Economists: No more recessions! No more class conflict! Ideas rule! But the New Economy’s brief incandescence was no freak or conspiracy, writes Henwood; it was, among other things, one more example of techno-utopianism, an old song with verses celebrating such saviors as the loom and Corn Flakes and Bill Gates. Even the claims and promises were not necessarily new, though dressed in outrageous garb: flattened hierarchies, credulous exuberance, postmateriality, the quantification of intangible assets, value anticipation. Henwood easily dispenses with the nonsense—like “the magical realm of the weightless corporation, where value is created not through production but through inventing and trading complex financial instruments and thinking big thoughts”—but he is more interested in the structural themes: massive wealth polarization, overwork and speedup, “putting a meter on almost everything but air,” and on the mobility myth, the boogie of globalization. He doesn’t coddle the reader; the going can get tough when he’s discussing such tools as multifactor productivity, though he also knows when to insert the laugh line: “Enron should be read as the demise not just of one firm, but of an entire business model. So far, it hasn’t worked out that way, but one must keep hope alive.” The author appreciates the iniquities of capitalism and also the imprecision of economic measurements, which can be read as a plea for vigilance and skepticism when economic gurus open their mouths.
A very intricate and satisfying tattoo, and painful enough to keep any new new economy in hiding for decades.