Street Smarts

Street Smarts

ONE MARKET UNDER GOD: EXTREME CAPITALISM, MARKET POPULISM, AND THE END OF ECONOMIC DEMOCRACY, by Thomas Frank Doubleday, 2000 414 pp $26

THIS IS THE story of a bizarre and, according to its narrator, victorious cultural counterrevolution. Thomas Frank calls it “market populism.” The phrase captures a stunning reversal in the way many people think about the free market. Old-fashioned populism held that laissez-faire capitalism presented the gravest danger to freedom, democracy, equality, and the material well-being of most citizens. Market populism turns that skepticism inside out. It persuades us that the market is the gateway to universal liberation. Egalitarian beyond compare, the free market eviscerates every authoritarian instinct, every hierarchical institution, every form of elitist snobbery. It conducts a twenty-four-hour-a-day plebiscite on the people’s preferences, an exquisitely more sensitive barometer of popular desire than the cumbersome and rickety apparatus of democratic political wrangling. Actually, market libbers argue, it is precisely those collectivist institutions, those legislative restraints, those ideological delusions standing outside the charmed circle of the marketplace—trade unions, government regulatory agencies, safety nets, codes of fair conduct, the leftovers of a smart-ass social engineering mentality, in a word, all the paraphernalia of the old populism—that short-circuit a full emancipation.

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