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The New Prophets of Capital

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  440 ratings  ·  54 reviews
A deft and caustic takedown of the new prophets of profit, from Bill Gates to Oprah

As severe environmental degradation, breathtaking inequality, and increasing alienation push capitalism against its own contradictions, mythmaking has become as central to sustaining our economy as profitmaking.

Enter the new prophets of capital: Sheryl Sandberg touting the capitalist work
Paperback, 160 pages
Published March 31st 2015 by Verso (first published March 1st 2015)
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Jun 09, 2015 rated it did not like it
Strangely obtuse when not stating the obvious. Lots of fog about "markets" and nothing about property and exploitation. More of an advertisement for Gates than a criticism, Aschoff's book misrepresents the goals of the outfit, obscures + prettifies its anti-democtratic mission, and covers up the most nefarious Gates activities including human medical experimentation in the 3rd world that has caused massive suffering and deaths (among them the deaths of poor rural girls used without consent for ...more
Mar 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Incredibly readable book that uses some of the most important figures and institutions of our time to provide a strong radical critique in simple language. The book has plenty that will make it worth reading for those already familiar with leftist politics, but I think it would be especially eye-opening for folks with no familiarity with radical critiques whatsoever. We need more books like this one.
Kyle Minton
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
When Whole Foods came to Detroit I remember Kai Ryssdal of NPR’s Marketplace doing an interview with Walter Robb, the CEO of the company at the time. Admittedly, I was on the bandwagon; I thought a Whole Foods in Detroit was a good thing, was part of the revitalization effort happening across the city. Ryssdal, though, posed some difficult questions to a clearly annoyed Robb (who at one point says something along the lines of “that’s why I’m an entrepreneur and you’re just a journalist”). The ...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
The attempt at the presentation of Capitalism with a human face is something that comes out of a lot of media outlets. Whether it be "lean in" business feminism, or "lifestyle products" like Whole Foods, or the spiritual awakenings of Oprah's media empire, or Billionaire philanthropy of Monopolists like Bill Gates and his wife Melinda. The need to tell a story to humanize the market and hold the allegiance of Americans to it is a never-ending public relations quest that works fairly well until ...more
Greg Brown
Apr 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Excellent, approachable examination of how efforts to reform or correct for the problems of capitalism often end up retrenching its worse tendencies. It's no surprise that LEAN IN or CONSCIOUS CAPITALISM can be found in airport bookstores everywhere, since they ultimately pose no threat to the established order: adding rich women to corporate boards doesn't mean policies will become any kinder to poor women, and nods in the direction of social responsibility don't break the cycle of consumption ...more
Nov 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
If Aschoff were more polemical, she would've title this The New False Prophets of Capital or The (False) Idols of Neoliberalism. If my alternate titles get more to her conclusion, her title preserves the ambiguity at the heart of of her case-study of (what I'll call) "apologist" capitalists. Apologist Capitalists are those who believe we can utilize the existing economic system to advance moral and social (especially global/internationalist) goals. Her examples are Sheryl Sandberg of "lean in" ...more
May 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Aschoff ably exposes the pervasiveness of capitalist values by analyzing their manifestation in lauded (neo?) liberal institutions/figures like Oprah, Sheryl Sandberg, and the Gates Foundation. She makes a radical critique of capitalism accessible by eschewing jargon and writing with tremendous economy. The book is perhaps best as a primer for the uninitiated or a refresher for lapsed radicals tempted by the tasty abundance of a Whole Foods buffet. I do wish for more ecumenism by thinkers like ...more
May 31, 2015 rated it liked it
Is capitalism for profit?

[Through my ratings, reviews and edits I'm providing intellectual property and labor to Inc., listed on Nasdaq, which fully owns and in 2014 posted revenues for $90 billion and a $271 million loss. Intellectual property and labor require compensation. Inc. is also requested to provide assurance that its employees and contractors' work conditions meet the highest health and safety standards at all the company's sites].

The four cases
Robb Bridson
Aug 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Aschoff writes a concise and broad critique of neoliberal hegemony by covering the ostensibly liberal movements that attempt to use capitalism as a force for good. She looks at four huge public figures: Sheryl Sandberg, John Mackey, Oprah, and Bill Gates.

This book is not an attack piece; it does not vilify the subjects nor does it deny the good they've done. This critique focuses on limitations that belie the comfortable message that we can fix everything using market forces. Also there is the
Anders K.
Mar 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
A brilliant critique of how the near-mythical status of today's "prophets of capital" is created while ignoring their underlying hypocrisy. Although Aschoff's book is often polemical, her adept condensation of contemporaneous critiques against advanced capitalism into an easily digestible read made me give the book four stars instead of three. Can be read in a day or two.
Jul 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
One of the recurrent characteristics of the capitalist era is those with power in the economic order debating the morals and ethics of business and of capitalism. It’s not new; the fundamentally exploitative processes a heart of capitalism were at the core of challenges from, debates including and actions by 18th and 19th century Quakers at Port Sunlight or Bourneville, Robert Owen at New Lanark and other corporate cooperativists as well as consumer and workers cooperatives in search of a more ...more
Oct 10, 2015 rated it did not like it
I'm very sympathetic to the argument but it's poorly written and organized, spends way too much time explaining the point of views of the prophets as if trying to lend them credence before the demolition, and falls into dumb New Left traps like declaring that social and cultural capital are real and productive rather than ideological mystifications of the inequalities created by the social relations of production, ie capital. Despite citing Harry Braverman (I will always love everything that ...more
Wendy Liu
Apr 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm baffled by the one-star review that is currently the most upvoted review for this book. It feels like a review of a different book from the one I read, which I personally thought was excellent. If the book's description intrigues you, I'd recommend you take the criticisms with a grain of salt and see for yourself how they hold up.
Maureen Forys
Jun 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really interesting and accessible book about a difficult topic.

Essentially, anyone trying to sell you self-actualization and a new utopia through capitalism are ignoring the massive inequalities and barriers to mobility that exist. Our country really values the idea that hard work and frugality are the ways to achieve success, but that's not actually how things play out in real life. Unfortunately, our culture hasn't caught up and we tend to idolize extremely wealthy people with messages that
Dec 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Essays on the "progressive" capitalism of each of four billionaires: Sheryl Sandberg, John Mackey, Oprah and Bill Gates.

Sheryl Sandberg's boss-lady feminism is fine and well, but there's no guarantee that powerful women will address the needs of women lower in the hierarchy. John Mackey's Whole Foods is a better place to work than most groceries, but its employees still often work below the poverty line -- competition alone can't guarantee good conditions for workers. Oprah's feel-good
David Pearce
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
The New Prophets of Capitalism is not, as you might think from an initial reading of the title, a glorification of some of our demigods of Capitalism and market solutions. Ms. Aschoff is, dare it be said, a socialist, and while not dismissive of the virtues that the prophets, Sandberg (Facebook), Mackey (Whole Foods), Whinfrey (Oprah), and Gates (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) propound, she is not taken in by them either.
For all its ability to create wealth and generate profits, Ms. Aschoff
Augusto Delgado
Dec 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anybody, comrades new and old
Couldn't help but think of Tommy the movie based on The Who's opera while I was reading this interesting book about this new prophets of capitalism; in a way it's like the successful Tommy when he preaches to the faithful that all you got to do is be deaf, dumb and blind and play pinball to be like him.
Now, this Ophras, Gateses, Mackey and Sandbergs shift to their successes the way of improve neoliberal capitalism through self help, commodification of education and healthcare, invented Ecologism
Mar 07, 2019 rated it liked it
Great read. Makes you think about things from a different angle. Some good points but many bad. Three stars because of many illogical points derived from extreme cases in society. Biggest issue was Aschoff's damning of capitalist markets throughout the book, proposing expensive social programs as the solution. But it's a capitalist market that creates enough value to even consider the costs of these projects. Another issue was her "public-monopoly-quick-fix method" arguing that big problems in ...more
Thom Kaife
Aug 19, 2017 rated it liked it
This book is a great primer on the perverted nature of neoliberal capitalism and how it has infiltrated progressive discourses. it can at times read as though the author is praising the "new prophets" but its purely to build the context and rationale to then provide the counter argument. Unfortunately for me, the anticapitalist response seemed to dwindle in size against the building of these "stories". However I think it would be a great read for someone who is quite early on in their ...more
Aug 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I recommend this book very strongly. I learned a lot about these 'new prophets.' I always wanted to criticize certain celebs who eulogize market economy, not to mention neo-liberalism, but lacked lots and lots of information. Nicole supplied that.

Her suggestion is not detailed enough, but I believe the direction is right. At least she pointed out clearly what is wrong with those market-loving celebs' prescription about world problems. Kudos big time, Nicole.
WM Hall
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was ok

"The elite suck" is a belief that I hold but also provides a rather dull and - somehow, considering how true it is, unconvincing - thesis. It's a very accessible book but this commitment to dry, spelled-out writing comes at the detriment of exciting, dynamic prose. The final chapter, a sort of "what next?" or "here's an alternative," does little to capture the imagination.
Sami Eerola
Jul 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
Good Marxist arguments against "Conscious Capitalism", but there was not much new in this book and the lack of sources for much of the claims hinder the books credibility. This is more of a easy to digest version of Marxist critique of capitalism and a source of arguments against incrementalism, charity and self help philosophy.
Feb 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociology, 2020
A concise but clear explanation and exploration of sociological theories on feminism, neoliberalism, capitalism and free market that connects them to instances (or in this case personas) that embody these current social system supporting discourses in real life.
Dec 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
There's some really excellent points in here but it reads like an essay. The thesis does not go any further from what was stated in the beginning, and there seems to be little development, a journey, anything to make this a cohesive narrative and not a single point reiterated.
J.D. Forslin
Oct 21, 2017 rated it liked it
A good primer on the subject. Something to get your mind working in a direction. It is somewhat incomplete in that it is heavy on criticism, and light on solutions. This book should only be the beginning of one's readings.
Dec 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
A sharp critique of neoliberalism. However, only two pages are devoted to possible solutions to inequality and redistribution of wealth. So, then what?
Joanna Norton
Feb 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great to read a critique of the capitalist narrative as presented by some of its most ardent supporters and storytellers.
Sean Estelle
May 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Great primer on storytelling & ideology! Would love to see an update on whole foods post Amazon merger, though.
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
Feels like the author lost their conviction halfway through, perhaps realising there wasn't as much mileage in their subject matter as they thought when submitting their proposal to the publisher.
Jul 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's not too often that most people will read anything about the flaws of capitalism anymore. It's a shame. While free-market capitalism has brought prosperity to some of the world, it is not the solution for every single problem on earth. Countries with universal healthcare, for example, tend to have overall superior health and cost outcomes. Free-market approaches towards healthcare have been problematic because it is quite difficult for an individual to put a market value on avoiding their ...more
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Nicole Aschoff is the author of The New Prophets of Capital and an editor at Jacobin magazine. Her work has appeared in numerous outlets including The Guardian, The Nation, Al Jazeera, and Dissent magazine.
“Capitalist society is particularly in need of stories. Our everyday lives are defined by going to school and to work, caring for our kids, listening to gossip, having a laugh, and stressing about this or that. Yet all of these micro-interactions take place within a set of larger structures and relationships whose primary purpose is to make a profit. The vast majority of people go to jobs that were not created to meet human needs but to give the owners of capital a return on their investment. All of us, wage-earners and capitalists alike, are locked into a system designed to perpetually accumulate more and more profit, not to satisfy human needs or provide for the common good.” 0 likes
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