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Frank

Doubleday,
414 pages


Review by
Tom Gallagher


It is the
entrepreneurs who know the rules of the world and the laws of God.” Could you
imagine reading dozens of books filled with stuff just as loopy as this
pronouncement from George Gilder, the country’s leading economic cheerleader?
Well, Thomas Frank has done that, and if you read One Market Under God,
you’ll be both glad that he did, and mighty appreciative that it was he rather
than you who plowed through such gems of contemporary management theory as
God Wants You To Be Rich
, Greed Is Good, Orbiting the Giant
Hairball
, and Who Moved My Cheese?

Frank, an
editor of The Baffler, a magazine of cultural criticism, takes a lot of
people seriously who don’t deserve to be, not because of the intellectual
content of their work, but because of their undeniable impact on American
culture at large and on at least a few people who are taken very seriously,
like Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman, the New York Times’ twin towers
of ideological probity.

From his lofty
heights as the globalization beat reporter on the paper of record in the
indispensable nation, Friedman describes a “whole world (turned) into a
parliamentary system,” where people “vote every hour, every day through their
mutual funds, their pension funds, their brokers, and more and more, from
their own basements via the internet.” Not only does this “market democracy’s”
substitution of a “one dollar-one vote” standard for the tradition of “one
person-one vote” not trouble Friedman, but he also predicts that it won’t
bother too many others either: “I don’t think there will be an alternative
ideology this time around.”

Certainly the
“new economy” has worked its share of wonders. Priceline.com hired William
Shat- ner to tell the world that it was going to be “big, really big,” and the
next thing we knew the total stock value of this company that sold discount
airline tickets was twice that of United Airlines. Way cool. The fact that no
new value had been created in the process mattered not a whit to the folks who
knew that the money you got from your inflated Priceline.com stock was real
enough.

This ability to
“create…wealth by acclamation” has created both its own public
boosterism—since “badmouthing the market…could very well bring on crash,
disaster, war,”—as well as business theories Frank finds “so elementary they
could have been lifted from the back of cereal boxes,” and some really weird
ones as well.

Day-trading is
“Zen-like.” “Destruction is cool,” therefore corporations should have Chief
Destructive Officers. The cover of Fortune tells us to, “Cannibalize
Yourself.” Motivational speakers advise that “History is for cowards and
losers.” Account Planners derive insight into the meaning of brand names from
the study of evolutionary psychology. Tom Peters, of In Search of
Excellence
fame, finds the new economy so profoundly different that
“Now… the people who lift ‘things’…are the new parasites living off the
carpal-tunnel syndrome of the computer programmers’ perpetually strained
keyboard hands.”

Although much
of this book is a hoot, Frank continually reminds us that a lot of people
apparently in the thrall of some silly “new economic age” thinking are
actually making decisions that affect the rest of us, even attempting to
replace such elements of economic democracy as we actually have—in the form of
unions and government programs like Social Security—with the “magic” of the
market.

Of course,
exigencies carried over from the old economy—like food and shelter—have a way
of intruding upon the fantasies of the new economy. So we read that the
workers of etown, an Internet company providing information on consumer
electronics, recently petitioned for a union representation election because,
no matter how much the Internet may have enriched their lives, they found it
difficult to live in San Francisco on their current wages of $420 to $640 per
week.

This would have
been the first such vote ever to be held in a dot-com company, but for the
fact that the company went under. But we can be sure this won’t be the last
“dot.communist” union drive, because as Frank says, ideology can never
overcome “the resilient language of democracy.”          Z


Tom
Gallagher is an activist and freelance writer living in California.