Amazon.com led me to believe that this was a book by Canadian author and political activist Naomi Klein. It isn’t. Instead, it is a collection of essays written by many liberal-minded activists including Klein, who unanimously agree that the multi-headed crisis of 2008 shows how market-driven capitalism is unsustainable and needs to change. Many authors bluntly advocate for the dismantling of the current system, making this the most radical treatise I have read thus far. However, I found myself agreeing with the majority of the ideas presented, which made for a very interesting read.
The main focus of the book is to ask that governments, banks and corporations re-shift their accountability to consumers, the general public and the environment. British author and green activist Derek Wall notes that capitalism’s “built-in growth imperative” has allowed the system to stray from the people it is meant to serve, ultimately degrading the environment and engorging the top 1% with unimaginable wealth and power (Wall, 181).
As far as people are concerned, the authors argue that globalization has not delivered on its promise of rising wages and greater equality. The richest companies and individuals exploit foreign tax havens to avoid paying billions in taxes while receiving hundreds of millions of dollars a day from impoverished nations in interest. The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) are far from being reached and the creation of a carbon credit economy is going to mostly benefit coal industry, hedge funds and energy traders. The seemingly insurmountable disparity between rich and poor is further encouraged by the Bretton Woods institutions and the neoliberal market reform policies of the 1970’s, which today still persist. It’s time to change all this.
In light of the 2008 financial collapse, a large chunk of People First Economics deals with bank reform. Ann Pettifor opens the book with her article, “Beyond the Crash – a Green New Deal”, a perfectly succinct recap of the housing, financial and credit crises of 2007 and 2008. Vanessa Baird simplifies various simple market concepts and shows us the monstrosities they have become. She, along with many other essayists call for the dissolution of tax havens and proposes heavier taxation on the corporations that avoid such duties. As far as taxes and corporations go, this book is anathema to bank CEO’s and the current Republican Party.
The second focal point of the book is the effects of rampant capitalism on the environment. Bolivian president Evo Morales’ letter to the fifth International Conference of Via Campesina declares that basic necessities for life, such as water, should never be privatized. Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society, harshly criticizes carbon credits as the privatization of the air we breathe. John Hilary expresses his frustration at the world’s sluggish progress in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals.
But the book is not all critique. Walden Bello lauds the Global Social Democracy movement, though he wishes it would push the agenda even further. Tarek el Diwani praises the Islamic system of finance, where it is illegal for a lender to make a profit off a failing business. Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett discuss the relationship between happiness and a country’s wealth disparity, showing that greater equality yields a higher level of general satisfaction per capita. Michael Albert calls for the transition toward a participant economy, or “parecon”.
Not all of the ideas presented in this book would be well-received by the voting public, and all would be shot down by corporate fat cats and legacy politicians. How such a lofty paradigm shift could be executed from the ground-up is mentioned in vague, general terms, and would require a much larger book. However, editors David Ransom and Vanessa Baird have done a great job of compiling many different and compelling voices, each lending their own ideas to the unfolding global controversy.