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Published: April 1, 1997

 
 

"One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism" by William Greider

Mr. Greider notes that the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire turned into one of those defining political moments. Public outrage led to reform and gave momentum to a growing labor movement. It was an outrage that almost doesn't seem possible anymore, when the public's greatest outrage is reserved for demanding tax cuts and politicians are stuck in the wax of inconsequential political scandals. Even if there were a national consensus, it is hard to imagine American politicians having the will to fulfill Mr. Greider's agenda:

"Restore national controls over global capital. Tax wealth more, labor less. Stimulate global growth by boosting consumer demand from the bottom up.... Reorganize monetary policy to confront the realities of a globalized money supply, both to achieve greater stability and to open the way to greater growth."

Mr. Greider clearly thinks government ought to be doing something, but is he correct about what it should be? Should government's main role be as regulator? Mr. Greider seems to have no vision of government as an engine of opportunity for its citizens. Capital doesn't build schools or hospitals or roads or airports. Government does. Mr. Greider wants government to regulate markets, to protect workers, to protect human rights, but he doesn't seem to have a vision of how to give people the skills to assert control of their lives. One of the more insightful remarks comes from an entrepreneur, who says, "If you don't inherit capital, you have to borrow it." If you don't get yourself born into a family that can get you educated and keep you healthy, some other entity has to help. Unless you regard the gap between haves and have-nots as the right and proper natural order.

Mr. Greider observes that the liberal welfare state is fading as an ideal. Even where it is still strong — in France and Germany — it is under attack. But he doesn't point out that governments complaining about the expense of "entitlements" are in effect cannibalizing themselves. They are abandoning the vision of upward mobility that has stood the United States, if not the post-colonialist powers like Britain, in good stead. Capital has never wanted to build schools for the skilled workers it demands or lines for the communications systems it needs. It's hard to see arbitraging across borders as the worst excess of capitalism.

Still, One World, Ready or Not is thought-provoking. Mr. Greider points out, using Singapore and Iraq as examples, that political freedom for individuals is not the natural outcome of economic success. If nothing else, he reminds us how fragile the idea of democracy is.


Authors
Barbara Presley Noble, the former At Work and Business Book Review columnist for The New York Times, has an M.S. in journalism from Columbia University and was a Knight-Bagehot fellow in business and economic journalism at Columbia.
 
 
 
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