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Business Sense and Social Darwinism: Book Review of Can Capitalism Be Saved?

This book review of Susan George's fictional novel Can Capitalism Be Saved? is translated from the German. Susan George is a leader in Attac, the French anti-globalization movement. "Capitalist economics obeys no other law than profit maximization..Our present system is a universal machinie for environmental destruction and the production of losers hardly useful to anyone." She sought to shake her hearers with her resolute No against the "consensus without consent
Business Sense and Social Darwinism

The American globalization critic Susan George outlines a cynical scenario
where the masters seek to save their world

by Ruth Jung

[This book review of Susan George's Can Capitalism Be Saved?, Rowohlt 2001 originally published in: Der Tages-Anzeiger, December 8, 2001 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.t... /taZeitungPrintArtikel?Articl=1471128&ausgabe=1964larchive=.]

In sober technical language, Susan George sketches a utopia ex negativo that should scare her readers. The author chose fiction as her form. Several selected and highly paid scientific experts under flowery pseudonyms - they call themselves narcissum, snowdrop and five-finger - meet secretly in Lugano to save capitalism in the 21st century in the commission of powerful corporate leaders and politicians. Capitalism is threatened despite all the victory reports. "Does the success of this global invention mean global misfortune lurks in the future from which the system and the world economy may not recover?" This is the anxious question of the fictional round of experts.

Old-New Manchester Liberalism

Capitalist economics obeys no other law that profit-maximization, Susan George shows. The groups of experts and reports are fiction. The scenarios come from the neoliberal globaslized world order, the new form of an old Manchester liberalism. Based on vast factual material, the "Lugano report" represents an accurate and objective estimation, the author says. "Our present system is a universal machine for environmental destruction and the production of losers hardly useful to anyone."

The author is often described as a financial expert. The 65-year old American with a French passport is not a financial expert. She is an educated philosopher active as a critical observer in the area of economic assistance and the ecology movement. Susan George is vice-president of Attac, the alliance of globalization critics founded in France in 1998. Her closing address at the first German Attac-congress at the end of October 2001 in Berlin was enthusiastically acclaimed. She sought to convince and shake hearers with her resolute No against the "consensus without consent" as Noam Chomsky described the decreed standardized neoliberal thinking.

Eco-conflicts

George paraphrases the perspective of the powerful and describes the dissolution of the social contract by the law of the market. A few win while many lose. She exposes the subtle cynicism. George's fictional experts see the greatest danger in the increasingly likely ecological collapse. "Eco-conflicts" will overrun the world. The ignorance of the corporate CEOs, their refusal to accept the biosphere as limited, is responsible. This undermines the success of economic liberalism.

Whoever doesn't consider this acts economically short-sightedly. The forest for example was always only recorded on the credit side of the balance sheet: as a wood supplier. Forests were not cultivated as "service providers" that absorb CO2 and stabilize the soil. "Saying growth threatens free enterprise sounds mad or heretical. Everyone knows that growth is the motor of our economy. However instead of applauding growth for its own sake, growth's total costs should be calculated including ecological and social costs currently externalized by those profiting financially from injurious economic growth", George's experts say.

Missing Answer

The second threatening danger, social conflicts and as a consequence extremism and terrorism, will flow into a permanent conflict between "insiders" and "outsiders". This assumption ultimately leads the experts to "the most urgent basic question": How can the many "superfluous outsiders" be repressed who claim the "services" of limited nature "free of charge"?

The "solution strategies" outlined in detail in the second part of the book coalesce in a bio-policy of the stronger consisting of a hardly endurable mixture of cool calculating business sense and cynical social darwinism. Reality has long caught up with George's frightening vision. Nearly a billion persons of this world are undernourished.

Technology is not lacking any more today in the battle against malnutrition. The dramatic reduction of western economic assistance can be seen as an intentional though veiled form of exclusion of those with no right to participate in wealth. "Population strategies" cushioned argumentatively with references to historical population policies from Plato to Malthus are the central desires of George's experts. Their "solution strategies" are a rigorously preventive slowing down of the birth rate and a drastic "increase of the mortality rate" through a subtle "hunger- and epidemic policy".

Susan George does not aim at moral indignation. A pragmatic tone predominates even in the final chapter where she substantiates her pedagogical intention and proposes "remedies" against standardized thinking serving an inhuman neoliberalism. "How can we get hold of a counter-power? How can an international democracy be produced?" - She doesn't answer these central questions. What could have been a strength of the book becomes a torture in many passages where the author disappears meticulously in detail. Some of her earlier books (e.g. Faith and the World Bank) were epochal. Whether she can shake readers with her fictional book remains to be seen.

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