One Market under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy

Article excerpt

One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy

by Thomas Frank

Doubleday - 2000 - 414 pages - $26.00

Reviewed by Brian Doherty

Thomas Frank is the hippest leftist theorist around. He publishes The Baffler, a journal of cultural criticism mostly aimed at the evils of corporations. Frank is a hero at Harpers and gets his books-essay collections of social criticism, not generally considered hot properties-published by the biggest New York publishers. His first book, The Conquest of Cool, lamented that corporations and advertisers have co-opted the language of radicalism and rebellion, tamed them, and made them meaningless.

Frank is one of the most well-known exponents of a widely spreading trope among socialists: that the laissez-faire free-market mentality has completely conquered the worlds of intellect and policy; that we live in a free-market dystopia where everyone is poor and getting poorer, on the verge of unemployment, and where no one dares suggest, much less act on, the idea that unfettered corporations in an unbounded free market should be interfered with in any way.

This may strike actual advocates of radical laissez faire, who haven't noticed their decisive victory, as peculiar. It might be interesting to actually see the evidence this intellectual wunderkind musters to buttress this notion. Alas, Frank thinks his assertions are beyond argument. His book's almost infinite ratio of derisive summation to actual argument against his opponents indicates that, despite his weird claim that free-market ideology reigns uncontested, Frank believes his readers already agree with him. He's merely the high priest at the ritualized verbal flaying of the heretics.

He starts with the assumption that laissez faire has triumphed, and says his book will tell "the story of ... how the American corporate community went about winning the legitimacy it so covets, persuading the world that the laissez-faire way was not only the best and the inevitable way, but the one most committed to the will and the interests of the people."

What this means, in practice, is hundreds of pages of witlessly ironic summations of writers to whom Frank attributes this supposed laissez-faire rout. People who say the Internet could be liberating, like George Gilder, or that the microchip has profoundly changed the world, like Kevin Kelly, are gibbering jerks. Those who hyped the '90s stock-market boom and growth in mutual-fund ownership are enemies of the people, from Peter Lynch to the Motley Fools to the Beardstown Ladies. …