A cri de bourse against a heartless, soulless economic system by a master of financial journalism.
For at least four-fifths of modern Americans, writes Nation correspondent Greider (Fortress America, 1998, etc.), capitalism has effectively vanquished the fiscal worries of old: how to keep a roof over one’s head, how to keep one’s belly fed. The costs of essentials have fallen over time, while the money available for what economists call “variety or status goods” has increased. “Basic human needs,” Greider writes, “are now eclipsed—even overwhelmed—by the overflowing abundance and variety produced by the modern economic system.” Yet, for all the variety and abundance in this great supermarket of a nation, Americans are miserable, and getting more so: we feel as if we’re out of time, have no power, have little hope of ever getting a step ahead, have too little compared to our neighbors. It’s the logic of capitalism that makes us feel that way, Greider asserts. Moreover, an ever-narrower financial system has replaced government in shaping the social contract, has conditioned society to want more and more, and “plays a central role in the homogenization of American culture” (as witness cookie-cutter shopping malls, fast-food restaurants, and housing developments that clutter the landscape). What is to be done? Well, writes Greider—no enemy of the profit motive per se—it’s up to the workers and producers of America, and the world, to see to it that capitalism fulfills its promise of plowing new wealth back into the society at large, and not just into a few hands. Offering case studies of firms and factories that have actually empowered workers for the better, the author suggests that such a shift is possible, if perhaps not likely anytime soon; those case studies are isolated and the big-picture details of changing things are a little fuzzy, but his enthusiasm for the project keeps this argument moving along at a brisk pace, and convincingly.
Though it lacks the thrills, chills, and spills of his Secrets of the Temple (1987), Greider’s latest does a good job of arguing for a future economics with a human face.