Spiked-online gung-ho for Henwood

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 21 11:20:02 MST 2003


20 November 2003

After the New Economy
by James Heartfield

After the New Economy, Doug Henwood, The New Press, 2003, GBP £16.95

New Yorker Doug Henwood's multimedia assault on American capitalism
ranges from the Left Business Observer - a newsletter, website and
discussion group - a weekly radio show on WBAI, the definitive expose
of Wall Street (Verso, 1998), and now his new book After the New

Henwood's high standing among radicals in America and beyond arises
from his ability, not only to understand the wilder shores of high
finance, but also to explain what is wrong there. Widening the focus
to the economy as a whole, Henwood's latest book is a rattling good
read, as well as being a clear introduction to the complexities of
economic statistics and the real world trends behind them.

Henwood makes short work of the shibboleths of the 'New Economy'
trumpeted by Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and many in the
financial press. He also takes apart the 'post-materialist' fantasies
of George Gilder and Business Week, showing that the 'overthrow of
matter' was prematurely celebrated. He is particularly good at going
for the jugular, exposing ramshackle exploitation behind the
book-selling website Amazon's glowing front page, and neatly exposing
'all the substitutes for profits that became so fashionable in the
later 1990s - "eyeballs", "hits" and "pageviews".'

Henwood takes some risks himself. As a critic of Wall Street, he is
well placed to enlarge his audience among the 'anti-capitalist'
movement of recent times. But rather than joining in with the Greek
chorus of woe-sayers, bemoaning the end of the world, Henwood is
resolutely optimistic about new technology. More than that, he shows
where the critics are wrong, exposing the anti-human ideas of the
deep ecology movement and their ambition to reduce the population.
Drawing out the unlovely consequences of the arguments made by greens
such as David Korten and Kirkpatrick Sale, Henwood concludes 'this is
snobbery, elitism and despair, masquerading as radical critique'

Henwood's chapter on income inequality seems the least satisfying -
though the treatment of the facts is more judiciously handled than in
most other approaches. (Henwood's account of the changes in the
demography of the US working class, and its impact on racial and
gender inequality, is most interesting.) Perhaps this is because
these issues were dealt with so well before, as in Andrew Hacker's
Money (1997). And, as Henwood points out, 'polarisation continued
well into the 1990s and beyond, but with much less political impactŠ.
Maybe people have gotten used to it.' The fact that inequality fails
to ignite popular criticism of the powers-that-be ought to be
investigated, and writers like Henwood should ask more questions when
establishment bodies like the United Nations churn out ever-more
alarming inequality statistics.

The chapter on globalisation is the best, with its clear explanation
of the mysteries of trade and its willingness to go against the grain
of accepted ideas on the left. In particular, Henwood takes care to
show that contemporary investment patterns are not a repeat of what
Lenin described as the super-exploitation of the third world, and
that not all growth in the developing world is unwelcome. He is wise,
too, on the state of the ruling elite, arguing that 'its members are
feeling a bit besieged'. If there were more minds like Henwood's
available, we might imagine the besieged elite being replaced

James Heartfield's 'Capitalism and anti-capitalism' is published in
interventions, Vol 5 (2), 271-89.

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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