ONE WORLD, READY OR NOT:
The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism
By William Greider
Simon & Schuster, 1996
528 pages, $27.50 hardcover ($37 Canadian)
For anyone concerned with social or economic justice, with world stability and peace -- or simply with the safety of their financial investments -- this book, or at least its message, is a must.
Unfortunately, its length (473 pages of text, plus 26 pages of notes, plus index) will probably deter many. Nineteen chapters detail all the things that have gone wrong, or are rapidly going wrong, from lost jobs, down-scaled wages, the breakdown of social safety-nets, the reappearance of sweatshop labor, and out-of-control national debts; all this and much more is analyzed with great care by the author, a veteran observer of political and economic life. Greider's sources range from such financial bibles as the WALL STREET JOURNAL and FORBES MAGAZINE, to numerous interviews with economists, politicians, industrialists, union organizers, and working men and women around the world. The picture is not reassuring. In many ways, our now inescapably one world -- "spaceship earth"-- resembles a gigantic ship of fools bent on its own economic and social destruction.
Who is to blame? Surprisingly, Greider does not particularly single out the multi-national industrialists, who are simply trying to stay competitive, or even once complacent union officials who are now desperately trying to keep their movement alive, or even the Wall Street financiers, who are, after all, simply doing, despite Adam Smith's naive faith in the "unseen hand" of the free market, what the social Darwinists always said they would. Instead, Greider reserves most of the blame for the politicians who, for one reason or another, have capitulated to the gyrations of a system that values temporary prosperity over people's real needs. Among the results are, as Marx long ago predicted, a world flooded with mass-produced goods that the bulk of the population can no longer afford. With this will come, sooner or later, as it did earlier in this century, a major world-wide depression with disastrous social unrest.
Greider's prescription for preventing this from happening, which involves the reform of trade practices, the revision of IMF and World Bank and various central bank policies (including the forgiveness of third world debts accrued under such miscalculated policies) will not please those at the top of the heap. To raise the bulk of the world's population to a reasonable standard of living, steady work and wages must take priority over free-trade and unbridled competition. This can only happen if the richest nations take the lead, yet this is unlikely to happen where the wealthiest people call all the shots. But even where they don't, such a revolution in our economic mind-set not only means repudiating the old idolatry of an ever-increasing GNP, but may involve rethinking, to an extent that even Greider finds uncomfortable but necessary in terms of the planet's finite capacities, the much- touted philosophy of "sustainable growth".
That such economic revolution will eventually happen, one way or another, either as result of forward thinking or as a result of total economic collapse, seems to explain Greider's sometimes annoying penchant for writing whole pages in the past tense about conditions that are still getting worse today. Perhaps he is afraid his book would otherwise be too quickly out-dated. Unfortunately for all of us, I doubt he really needs to worry about that.
Richard W. Kropf
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