By Robert Kuttner
- Everything for Sale; The Virtues and Limits of Markets (1996)
- Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? (2018)
In the past few decades, the wages of most workers have stagnated, even as productivity increased. Social supports have been cut, while corporations have achieved record profits. Downward mobility has produced political backlash. What is going on? Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? argues that neither trade nor immigration nor technological change is responsible for the harm to workers’ prospects. According to Robert Kuttner, global capitalism is to blame. By limiting workers’ rights, liberating bankers, allowing corporations to evade taxation, and preventing nations from assuring economic security, raw capitalism strikes at the very foundation of a healthy democracy.
The resurgence of predatory capitalism was not inevitable. After the Great Depression, the U.S. government harnessed capitalism to democracy. Under Roosevelt’s New Deal, labor unions were legalized, and capital regulated. Well into the 1950s and ’60s, the Western world combined a thriving economy with a secure and growing middle class.
Beginning in the 1970s, as deregulated capitalism regained the upper hand, elites began to dominate politics once again; policy reversals followed. The inequality and instability that ensued would eventually, in 2016, cause disillusioned voters to support far-right faux populism. Is today’s poisonous alliance of reckless finance and ultranationalism inevitable? Or can we find the political will to make capitalism serve democracy, and not the other way around?
Charting a plan for bold action based on political precedent, Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? is essential reading for anyone eager to reverse the decline of democracy in the West. One of our leading social critics recounts capitalism’s finest hour, and shows us how we might achieve it once again.
Caleb Crain on The New Yorker wrote:
Kuttner's Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets (1996) was "a systematic attempt to debunk the then-prevailing view that markets solved all (the 'virtues' in the subtitle was a head fake). [...] 'Everything for Sale' holds up well, I can report. [...] to me none of his market critiques comes across as entirely wrong [...] and many have since become widely accepted. [...] Turning after this to Kuttner’s latest, Can Democracy Survive Capitalism?, was probably unfair. For one thing, it’s not as good: The book is a timely polemic against globalization and marketization, not a document meant to withstand the test of time. For another, 675 straight pages of Robert Kuttner [...] is a lot to take. The man is not a thrilling writer, or much of a humorist. [...] Kuttner isn’t an especially original or compelling analyst of electoral politics, and the weakest parts of this book are those in which he describes the rise of Trump, or the 1990s embrace of markets by the Democrats in the United States, Labour in the United Kingdom and the Social Democrats in Germany. But never fear: There’s lots more space devoted to the less personal politics of institutions and rules, where Kuttner is in his element."
"In a sweeping, angry new book, Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? (Norton), the journalist, editor, and Brandeis professor Robert Kuttner champions Polanyi as a neglected prophet. Like Polanyi, he believes that free markets can be crueller than citizens will tolerate, inflicting a distress that he thinks is making us newly vulnerable to the fascist solution. In Kuttner’s description, however, today’s political impasse is different from that of the nineteen-thirties. It is being caused not by a stalemate between leftist governments and a reactionary business sector but by leftists in government who have reneged on their principles. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Kuttner contends, America’s Democrats, Britain’s Labour Party, and many of Europe’s social democrats have consistently tacked rightward, relinquishing concern for ordinary workers and embracing the power of markets; they have sided with corporations and investors so many times that, by now, workers no longer feel represented by them. When strongmen arrived promising jobs and a shared sense of purpose, working-class voters were ready for the message."
Videos on the Book
Robert Kuttner introduces his book in 2,5 minutes:
You may also want to watch this 14-minute interview on the book by the Institute for New Economic Thinking.
Table of Contents of Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?
- A Song of Angry Men
- A Vulnerable Miracle
- The Rise and Fall of Democratic Globalism
- The Liberation of Finance
- The Global Assault on Labour
- Europe's Broken Social Contract
- The Disgrace of the Center Left
- Trading Away a Decent Economy
- Taxes and the Corporate State
- Governing Global Capitalism
- Liberalism, Populism, Fascism
- The Road from Here
About Robert Kuttner
Robert Kuttner, cofounder and coeditor of The American Prospect, is a former columnist for Business Week, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe. He holds the Ida and Meyer Kirstein Chair at Brandeis University, and lives in Boston.