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One Market under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy [Paperback]

Thomas Frank
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Nov 2005
In a book that has been raising hackles far and wide, the social critic Thomas Frank skewers one of the most sacred cows of the go-go '90s: the idea that the new free-market economy is good for everyone.

Frank's target is "market populism"--the widely held belief that markets are a more democratic form of organization than democratically elected governments. Refuting the idea that billionaire CEOs are looking out for the interests of the little guy, he argues that "the great euphoria of the late nineties was never as much about the return of good times as it was the giddy triumph of one America over another." Frank is a latter-day Mencken, as readers of his journal The Baffler and his book The Conquest of Cool know. With incisive analysis, passionate advocacy, and razor-sharp wit, he asks where we?re headed-and whether we're going to like it when we get there.


Product details

  • Paperback: 436 pages
  • Publisher: Random House USA Inc (1 Nov 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385495048
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385495042
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 13 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 641,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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A passionate, bracingly irreverent and always hugely readable lexicon of the political cant of the past decade Independent 20020614 A dazzling manifesto for the anticapitalist movement... A seductive mixture of wit and polemic Observer 20020614 A brilliant, bracing slice and dice job on the pop culture of the New Economy New York Observer 20020614

About the Author

Thomas Frank is editor of The Baffler magazine. He lives in Chicago.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
It was the age of the focus group, of the vox populi transformed into flesh, descended to earth and holding forth majestically in poll results, in town hall meetings, in brand loyalty demographics, in e-mail bulletin boards, in website hits, in browser traffic. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another God that failed 9 Feb 2010
By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In this brilliant deconstruction, Thomas Frank uncovers the real interests behind the free marker evangel, which was sold as a pillar of democracy by partisan media and aggressive advertisers.

The market evangel
Free marketeers pretended that a free market is a more democratic system than an elected government and that free markets and democracy are identical. Markets give people what they want. The laissez-faire way is the most committed to the will and the interests of the people. Governments have no rights over markets.

The heart of the market matter
Markets are interested in profits, and only in profits. The logic of business (corporations) is monopoly, market share, revenues, margins and profits.
Markets are fundamentally not democratic: what good is for business (the few), is bad for workers (the many). Markets reward those companies which downsize (cutting costs by massive lay-offs).
Higher prices and fat commissions are the only interests of mass participation in the stock market.

Management gospel, advertising, brands, media
In a patently false language of euphoria, corporations were sold as superhuman democratic creatures, giving people what they wanted. Consumerism was explained as the perfect expression of human liberation. Brands were hailed as models for personal life. Advertising combined brands with social justice (Benetton & anti-racism).
In the media, critical judgment was replaced by `laudatios' for the free market. In the meantime, massive consolidation created media conglomerates which were and are a threat to democracy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Frank's da man 28 May 2014
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Hilarious but horrifying, this is everything How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World (see review before last) was not - intellectually exciting, witty, deliciously readable - and angry. Mumbo, published four years later and grandly subtitled a history (it is nothing of the sort) already feels more dated. (It still sells. I am holding the 19th impression. Clearly Francis Wheen tapped into the zeitgeist, today's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas community.) Unlike Wheen, Frank addresses the theory behind neoliberalism, aka post-'89 hubris. 'Markets are where we are most fully human.' That dreaded concept 'choice'*! 'Embrace the laissez-faire way.. like Madonna and Benetton, Pepsi and Prince.' 'If 'a visionary geo-architect' were to design the ultimate nation, he would insist it had 'the most flexible labor market in the world'. Beside this triumphalist claptrap Frank's language is both temperate** - perhaps too temperate - and acute. Preachy? Sure, but unlike Wheen, he's a crusader; Wheen prefers giggling smugly from the sidelines

The world-view Frank describes will segue all too seamlessly into Karl Rove's breathtaking 2003 words to journalist Ron Suskind: 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.' No doubt, Karl - just not in the way you think. History has a way of having the last laugh

* The closest Wheen gets is the chairman of Enron's reply when asked what Jesus would do if he ran a power utility. 'He wanted people to have the freedom to make choices' (Mumbo p278)

** Wheen, by contrast, resorts to language like 'drooling epigones' - guess his title should have warned us
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great value for money 31 Jan 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you are at all interested in Globalization or the issue of Capitalism this is a must read, bought second hand so extremely good vaule
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5.0 out of 5 stars From the horse's mouth 29 Jun 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Frank is a masterful writer, whose withering destruction of the pretensions of the dot-comunists is amply illustrated by the quotations and references he gives from their own mouths. One of the idiocies of the nineties relates to an IBM publicity spot as Frank records it. In short, yes, the ads claimed that IBM was omniscient, omni-present and omnipotent. For those of us who find such attributes difficult to allot even to G-d, these monstrous claims would be taken as a sort of bad joke - IBM surely didn't mean it all ? However, as Frank shows again and again ,it was no joke, and the men ( and women) who bullied their way to prominence as "gurus" in those years considered themselves to be - wait for it - the humble servants of the Market. "In God we Trust", indeed.
Sadly, of course, those Brits with some memory will recall that we had probably led the race in this vain intellectual thuggery, with Lady Thatcher's "think-tankers" of the 1970's, who are still with us, or their progeny, toady (oops! I meant "today") and whose grovelling obeisance to the Great and Good and TINA-ish righteousness is almost universal among "leaders" in our Western World.
Frank shows how, in the US, things were not always like this, but have degenerated into the stale,dead but immensely successful rhetoric ( Pinter) which is gradually, and, of course, deliberately, spreading cynicism , of the right kind !! The One Market under God may soon become One World under God. But which God ?? Meanwhile, a fearful prospect awaits the US and any who take it as a model.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  54 reviews
131 of 135 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tom Frank has it right. 4 Jan 2001
By Richard Du Brul - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I'm a Republican, sort of, and I've known and usually disagreed with Tom Frank for several years. Disagreed partly because of his and my age, educational, and career differences. But, as an older market research professional, disappointed with the ethos and ethics of our time, I heartily agree with Tom in his view that the American public has been sold a wrongful message on the state and - more importantly - the future of our economies. Plural is important, domestic plus export and import sales. I disagree with him on the unions' role, because he does not look at work rule problems. But otherwise, Tom Frank is right: The democratization of capital is largely a myth. Really, this is a thoughtful and - How did he have the time and stomach to read all that junk blah-blah management literature? - a very well researched and written book. The newspaper reviews, like the Chicago Tribune's, are right. Tom's written an important book about our futures.
109 of 114 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What's the fuss all about? 12 July 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This thoughtful, well researched, highly praised, and cogently written book was published three years ago, so why all the recent vitriol from negative reviewers? In fact, these harshly negative reviewers are *really* annoyed at the favorable response to the author's new book (see the just-published WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?). And in their zeal to trash the author and his useful discussion of how conservative voters have ceded their own true economic interests to calculated -- but essentially dead-end -- appeals to conservative values, these frustrated rightwing critics have extended their campaign to all things Tom Frank-related. If they actually read any of Frank's books, they might find much in his work that is sympathetic and fair-minded. Unfortunately, they have yielded to the right-wing preference for shrillness and black and white thinking over nuanced argument and real debate (but alas, that's what's the matter with liberals). Ignore the bombast and read this book -- and decide for yourself.
83 of 90 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read critique of our obession with hyper capitalism 10 Nov 2004
By Robert Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Before I say anything else about this book, I want to address the very strange claim made by a couple of reviewers that Thomas Frank doesn't understand economics. What is bizarre about that statement is that nowhere in the book does Frank talk about economics. If you look at most of the books by people like George Stigler or Gary Becker or Kenneth J. Arrow or any of a host of economists, you will find few of the issues discussed in this book. What is closer to the truth is that Frank discusses some of the assumptions that people make about business and the market. But this is largely unrelated to economic theory. When Milton Friedman argues for a radically free market economy, he has ceased speaking as an economist and has become a political philosopher, just as when Amartya Sen ceases writing about economics and begins talking about issues of justice and fairness in a political system, he has become a political philosopher. One speaks as an economist when stating what the effect of strong central regulation has on foreign investment, but one speaks as a political scientist when saying that deregulation is a bad or a good thing.

Nonetheless, Frank is very definitely concerned with the assumptions that underlie much free market-oriented policy of the past decade or so. In a sense, Frank is trying to revive questions that progressives such as Teddy Roosevelt, William Jennings Bryan, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt asked about the fairness of a society in which the needs of the many could be ignored in favor of the needs of the few. These individuals, like Frank, were deeply concerned with issues of economic equality. In the past two decades, a revival of Social Darwinism has occurred, with the result that we are in the midst of the most dramatic concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny elite at the expense of the middle class and the impoverished. A whole litany of statistics can be marshaled here. Frank notes that according to Federal Reserve numbers in 1979 20% of the wealth was in the hands of the top 1%, a number that strikes me as far too large. Yet by 1999 37% of the wealth was in the hands of the top 1%. After several rounds of tax cuts for the wealthy and investor classes, what would that percentage be today? 43%? 45%? 48? Clearly it is a pattern that has that been reversed. All economic indicators reveal that in the past twenty-three years there has been a dramatic shift in the wealth of the nation from the middle class to a small economic elite. Real wages for the middle class have fallen, while we are experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of millionaires and billionaires. Frank clearly thinks this is completely messed up, and I doubt if many Americans would disagree.

ONE MARKET UNDER GOD deals with the panoply of problems that result from the allied beliefs in market populism (which is one of the ultimate oxymorons) and extreme capitalism. The passion for making all roads straight for rampant capitalism, the mania for deregulation, the utter disregard for all criteria for the economic health of any nation other than how the markets are doing, are all unquestioned manias that dominate current social and political discourse. Yet FDR insisted that it was a shameful situation where we as a nation considered that the nation as a whole was doing well if the majority of the citizens were not doing well. But in the market craze of the past two decades, most Americans have not done well. Frank implies that we might want to rethink a society that thinks that America benefits from a company laying off 20,000 workers because their stock goes up as a result. As Frank points out, consideration for workers and the masses has largely dropped out of the picture.

Frank chronicles the obsession with extreme capitalism that characterizes our society (and continues to do so even after the bubble collapse suffered in 2001), and the vast array of prophets that harkens not its desirability (in fact, no one even thinks to argue that the hyper capitalism that has gripped our society is a good thing; they merely assume this as a given) but to its inevitability. Frank finds all this more than a little nutty and the obvious point of the book is to make us all stand back a bit and reconsider whether this turbo capitalism will truly result in a kind of world that we truly want.

Frank brings a number of strengths to the table in this book. First, he is a fine historian, with a much deeper grasp of trends and developments in American history than is needed for this study. Second, he is a fabulous writer. He isn't quite as funny as a comic such as Al Franken, but he is the equal of a Molly Ivins. So, in addition to being incredibly informative and to being crucial in making us rethink our national goals, it is also a pleasure to read.

I'll close with a personal anecdote. As I was reading this book (which I interrupted to read his more recent and equally superb book, WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS?), I mentioned to some friends over Thai food that I was reading a great book by Thomas Frank. One of my friends remarked, "Oh, I had a friend at the U of C who had a brother named Tom Frank. They roomed together and threw some really great parties. He edits THE BAFFLER now." Well, the author of this book is the founder, of course, of THE BAFFLER, and I find it somehow comforting that such a pertinent and morally powerful book was written by someone who knows how to party.
53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It needed to be said. 21 Nov 2000
By Bearymore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Thomas Frank has trenchantly skewered the ideology of the market. Somehow this ideology has managed to insinuate itself so deeply that it is not recognized for what it is - an ideology - but is taken as simple common sense. Frank puts it back where it belongs as just one among many social class ideologies. He does this in two ways - by clearly showing where it came from and by exposing its absurdity in a range of areas from the internet to business to academia. I was going to write 'satirically exposing' in the last sentence, But Frank doesn't satirize, the material he quotes satirizes itself.
Frank has been criticized for repetitiousness and beating a dead horse. I did not find this to be true at all. What he conveys - forcefully - is the pervasiveness of this ideology everywhere in American life. His theme is that market ideology has replaced New Deal ideals and the labor movement with a patently self serving system of thought which inevitably enriches the few at the expense of the many. He contrasts this ideology with the postwar system of strong labor, effective government regulation of both business and the economy, and an adequate welfare safety net. He doesn't need to outline an alternative to the market, it existed only 20 or 30 years ago and still exists in places like France.
I hope that more works like Frank's appear before the Market Populists complete their bridge to the nineteenth century.
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Markets 'R' Us 23 Jun 2001
By Mathew Little - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Noam Chomsky once observed that the US was one of the most ideological societies on earth but this was also what made it so interesting to work there. Thomas Frank, who as editor of left-wing magazine The Baffler has consistently and eloquently chronicled the will to power of America's business class must sometimes have to suppress an author's bubbling sense of glee at such fertile material. His latest book One Market Under God is based on a simple proposition - that during the 1990s, the American public allowed themselves to be seduced into thinking that anything that was good for corporate America was ultimately good for everyone. The results, Frank laments, can been seen in the rampant casualisation of the workplace, the ripping up of the welfare state, the spiralling prison population and the incredible statistic that in 1999 the average income of CEOs was 475 times that of blue collar employees. The ideological tool with which this determined assault on the relatively egalitarian settlement of the `middle class republic' of the `50s and `60s was carried out, Frank dubs `market populism'. Ditching the conservative culture wars of the `80s just as the internet boom was beginning to take off, Wall Street and its journalistic outriders embraced the wisdom of the common man. From rebel teenagers to midwestern grandmothers in investment clubs, everyone was seen to be making money from the unstoppable boom of the new economy (partially, though this was seldom mentioned, to compensate for stagnating wages and the decline of social security). The market became the embodiment of the popular will, expressed through consumer preferences and stock options - much more immediate and representative than clunky, once every four years elections. Newsweek expressed the faith in borrowed soundbite - `Markets `R' Us'. The reverse logic of this equation of democracy with the market was that anyone or anything that opposed the unfettered will of capitalism such as the regulatory state or trade unions were, by definition, elitist enemies of democracy and progress, and deserved to be dumped in the dustbin of history together with Stalin, Castro and the French in general for being so snobbish and protectionist. As Frank relentlessly trawls the endless repetitions of the market faith culled from business literature, journals and the mainstream press, you are left, as with parts of No Logo, with anxious sense of unreality, tinged with a naive wonderment at how people can, not just comply with the market, but come to imbue it with a divine, supernatural wisdom. As one `soloist' consultant approaches a lull in her career: `I decide to let the market tell me what it wants from me, and in a few days I get an invitation to have lunch with Andrew, a successful investment banker.' Or in New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's assertion that if God were to design the ultimate economy He would ensure that it had `the most flexible labor market in the world' and that managers could `hire and fire workers with relative ease'.The afterlife as sweatshop. At times, as Frank assiduously brings out, business thinkers cannot decide whether they are celebrating the will of the people or demanding that the world's populus meekly submit to the dictates of a divinely-inspired perfect system. Very often, the latter is held in reserve should the former fail to convince. `The two ideas were often connected, rhetorically in a kind of good cop/bad cop routine,' says Frank. `The market will give you a voice, empower you to do whatever you want to do - and if you have any doubts about that, then the market will crush you and everything you've ever known.' Even though the book makes only occassional sideglances to the anti-capitalist movement, it will undoubtedly be read, as has No Logo, as an expression of that movement's thinking. Curiously at times, and maybe this says something about anti-capitalism, Frank appears as something of a rebel conservative in his nostalgia for the `middle-class republic' of the post-war boom and his narrow definition of `economic democracy' as a broad equality of income and workplace rights. The strength is of the book is that, as with Chomsky, you are left with a far more sensitive awareness of the ideology that bombards you every time you pick up a newspaper or magazine. His description of Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and The Economist all lining up Pravda-style to accuse Seattle demonstrators of stopping the world's poor from making a decent living is memorable. Behind the righteous exterior and `end of history' certainty, there was more than a little nervousness that things might be getting out of control.
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