An unsettling but fascinating divination of how the relentless march of market forces will play out over the coming centuries, by French economist and scholar Attali (Millennium: Winners and Losers in the Coming Order, 1991, etc.).
In this prediction of the doom of capitalism, written five years ago and updated since the U.S. banking crisis, Attali enlists his considerable knowledge of world systems—geopolitical, economic, ideological, cultural and ecological—to trace the progress of market democracy and its tumultuous evolution through nine successive flourishings. The author notes that it will culminate in a terrifying, unstable future plagued by a scarcity of natural resources, ruptured nation states and individuals relegated to nomadic servility under a “super-empire.” Attali begins with a “Brief History of Capitalism,” wherein he pursues the organizing forms of the mercantile order around nine “cores” throughout history. The author identifies each of the cores by the name of a port city—Bruges, Venice, Antwerp, Genoa, Amsterdam, London, Boston, New York, Los Angeles—or by the defining technological innovation of the time—the stern rudder, caravel, printing, accounting practices, reed instrument, steam engine, internal-combustion engine, electric motor, microprocessor. The last core, which, according to Attali, began in Los Angeles in 1980, will extend its “beautiful future” only another 20 years, until the markets begin to exhaust themselves. Nonetheless, Attali foresees a possible benevolent end, once collective repulsion for super-empire and “hyperconflict” ensues. Consequently, he writes, “hyperdemocracy” will emerge, led by just, peaceable leaders devoted to the protection of the common good.
Well-informed, outré reading from a big-ideas thinker.