I borrowed this book from the library, and towards the end I found no fewer than three abandoned book marks. This led me to believe that many people fI borrowed this book from the library, and towards the end I found no fewer than three abandoned book marks. This led me to believe that many people found this book hard to finish and in many ways I sympathise. The subtitle implies that this book will be a history lesson followed by advice on how to overthrow our inhuman corporate overlords. The former is definitely present; Rushkoff charts the history of the corporation back to the Renaissance. He explains how the corporation became a way for monarchies to rein in the new merchant class and maintain some semblance of centralised control over the new rich. However, the balance of the book is occupied with cataloguing the various evils corporations have done to us over the years (some fascinating, some well-known, some truly hideous) with very little advice offered (the promised ‘how to take it back’ part.) By way of homage, you will find that this long-winded review catalogues some of the interesting parts of Life Inc., but will not offer a recommendation or whether or not you should read it.
If you read Life Inc., it is likely you will be affected by a train of thought Rushkoff himself describes: concern becomes cynicism, becomes despair, becomes thoughts of self-preservation and insulation. The trick is to keep reading after the despair phase and I think that is where my three predecessors failed. Again, I can’t really blame them because the payoff is modest. If you do move past despair, then eerily (or perhaps not-at-all-coincidentally), you will experience the self-preservation phase shortly before reading about it.
The history is fascinating, particularly when Rushkoff takes us back to the Age of Cathedrals. He conjures up images of an idyllic period of European history before the Renaissance, the plague and the rise of the corporation. A time where the working classes enjoyed four days of work, over a hundred public holidays and arguably enjoyed better standards of health and well-being than we do today. There was no reason or sense in hoarding local currency, so businesses invested heavily in their people and physical assets. It’s a compelling view of the late Middle Ages, a period of history that I don’t feel was covered very well in my education and throws some doubt on what we consider to be 'progress'. From there, Rushkoff takes us on to the spread of centralized currency, the abuses of Philip IV and finally the plague. He turns on its head the traditional assertion that the plague led to Europe’s economic collapse, saying that in fact the switch to centralized currency decreased standards of living, started the economic collapse and the plague was the result. It’s an interesting alternative view of history that merits further study, although Rushkoff does not provide much in the way of proof so more reading is required.
Having raised doubts about our interpretation of history, the author also questions traditional economic theory and GDP in particular, pointing out that while things like cancer and divorce increase GDP, home cooked meals and socialising with the neighbours decrease GDP. So what is so great about this GDP thing anyway? And in some less developed nations, it has become clear than an increase in GDP results in a lower standard of living for the majority.
In summary, it’s an interesting book that will make you think and confirm some of your darkest suspicions but unfortunately it’s a bit lacking in answers. I imagine that the sort of people drawn to a book entitled Life Inc. might not find much new in this book, but there’s plenty of people out there that ought to read it. One more thing: don’t forget your bookmark!...more