Back in the 1980s, capitalism seemed ready to finally inherit the earth. According to the likes of Francis Fukuyama, in his infamous book The End of History
, history was coming to an end with the triumph of western capitalism, witnessed by the dramatic collapse of the Soviet Bloc and the growth of the global free market. Subsequent events, from the downfall of Mrs Thatcher to the recent financial unrest in Southeast Asia, have seriously questioned the validity of Fukuyama's arguments (not to mention other luminaries of the New Right). However, John Gray's wonderful False Dawn
is the first book to convincingly dismantle the economic and historical presumptions of the 1980s, as we head into political and financial uncharted water.
Writing with great economy and accessibility, Gray's argument is concise but portentous: the unfettered global free market economy will not spawn a self-regulating utopia, but increasing social instability and economic anarchy. With an impressive breadth of economic and social history, False Dawn convincingly argues that "the free market is a rare, short-lived phenomenon", a specific product of English nineteenth-century social engineering, from whose cycles of boom and bust we still have much to learn. Even more provocatively, Gray argues that "democracy and the free market are competitors rather than partners." The failures of the free market, from pre-war Europe to the collapse of the Mexican economy in 1994, have persistently shown that democratic state intervention is required to place checks and balances upon the erratic cycles of boom and bust which has characterised the relatively short history of the free market.
Arguing with great passion and conviction, Gray explores the emergence of the belief in the global free market, via the increasingly discredited philosophy of the European Enlightenment, through the rise and fall of the free market in England from Palmerston to Thatcher. The book then analyses the potentially catastrophic investment in the free market coming out of the USA, the recent "Anarcho-capitalism" of post-communist Russia, and the crisis in the markets of Southeast Asia. Avoiding calls for a return to socialist planning, False Dawn is a refreshing and challenging polemic. Nevertheless, it offers few solutions to what Gray sees as "the deepening international anarchy" as free markets spiral out of control. While False Dawn may expose the shortcomings of contemporary global capitalism, it remains to be seen whether or not its arguments provoke more concrete solutions to the chronic instability of the free market. --Jerry Brotton