Friday, April 16, 2021

Losers’ World (2000)

Book Review from the April 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Turbo-Capitalism: Winners and Losers in the Global Economy’, by Edward Luttwak, (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1998)

Most American textbooks on capitalism either present it as the best possible system that will last well into the future if not for ever, or admit that it has a few faults which are a small price to pay for its benefits. Luttwak is closer to the second position than the first. In his opening sentence he expresses his belief “both in the virtues of capitalism and in the need to impose some measure of control over its workings”. In a matter-of-fact tone the author discusses the many and dreadful consequences of capitalism for the losers, of which there are many more than winners. By turbo-capitalism he means a form of capitalism that is much different from the controlled form that mostly prevailed from 1945 to the 1980s. He admits that “turbo” is his term—others simply call it the free market. It means very much more than the freedom to buy and sell:
  “What they celebrate, preach and demand is private enterprise liberated from government regulation, unchecked by effective trade unions, unfettered by sentimental concerns over the future of employees or communities, unrestrained by customs barriers or investment restrictions, and molested as little as possible by taxation.”
Luttwak likes the increase in economic growth that turbo-capitalism brings but is aware of the consequences which he deplores:
  a breakdown of familial capitalism (especially in Asia): “Cold-blooded, truly arm’s length and therefore purely contractual relations” 
  increasing job insecurity: “employees at all but the highest levels must go to work each day not knowing if they sill still have their job on the morrow” 
   the global increase in unemployment: “it is a protracted tragedy at the personal level, and destabilising at the social level” 
the insecure majority are persuaded to accept the sovereignty of the market: “losers blame themselves rather than the system”

In mitigation of the harsh discipline and sharp inequalities which Luttwak admits turbo-capitalism has brought, he believes that there are “two great forces that serve to balance its over-powering strength”: the American legal system (poor people can get “damage awards”) and the pervasive influence of Calvinist values (earned wealth is no impediment to virtue).

In Luttwak’s favour is his assessment of Blair and the left wing in politics: ” . . . both Clinton in the United States and Blair in the United Kingdom have continued to use some liberal prose to wrap their conservative remedies . . . even a left-wing electoral victory can yield only right-wing polices”.

Compared to what he calls “defunct communist economies” and “bureaucratic socialism”, the author believes that turbo-capitalism is “materially altogether superior, and morally at least not inferior . . . Yet to accept its empire over every aspect of life, from art to sport in addition to all forms of business, cannot be the culminating achievement of human existence. Turbo-capitalism too, shall pass”.

Yes, Luttwak, but what are you doing to help make it pass?
Stan Parker

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