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Supercapitalism: The Battle for Democracy in an Age of Big Business [Paperback]

Robert B. Reich
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Mar 2009
Capitalism should be made to serve democracy, and not the other way around, argues Robert Reich.Supercapitalism - turbocharged, Web-based, able to find and make almost anything just about anywhere - is working wonderfully well to create wealth. But democracy, so argues Robert Reich, US Secretary of Labour under Bill Clinton - charged with caring for all citizens - is failing under its influence.Reich explains how widening inequalities, heightened job insecurity, and global warming are the logical outcomes of supercapitalism. He shows that companies, fighting harder than ever to be competitive, have become more deeply involved in politics, and how the tools used to temper society's problems - taxation, education, trade unions - have withered as supercapitalism has burgeoned."Supercapitalism" sets out a clear course to a vibrant capitalism and a concurrent, equally vibrant democracy. Business and politics must be kept distinct; the legal fiction that corporations are citizens must end - whether Wal-Mart, Google, Microsoft or Nike are good or evil misses the point. We must stop treating companies as if they were people and must abolish corporate income tax, charging shareholders instead, and hold individuals rather than corporations guilty of crimes. Only people can be citizens, and only citizens should be allowed to participate in democratic decision making.Important, timely, authoritative and thrilling, "Supercapitalism" is a tour-de-force of modern popular political writing and is essential reading for anyone concerned that government and big business are too familiar bedfellows.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books Ltd (5 Mar 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848310463
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848310469
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 404,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'Robert Reich's timely book should act as a wake-up call to the body politic.' -- Tribune 'One of the most interesting books on political economy to appear in a long time.' -- Samuel Brittan, Financial Times 'Supercapitalism is a rounded and explicit discussion of how capitalist structures have stretched into the realm of democracy and eroded it.' -- Mario Pisani, New Statesman 'Reich's book is fluently written, highly informative and a thoroughly absorbing read.' -- Sunday Business Post 'A much-needed call for a reassessment of capitalism and recommendations for how to fix the mess we're in. An important book that needs to be read.' -- Joseph Stiglitz 'Supercapitalism is a grand debunking of the conventional wisdom in the style of John Kenneth Galbraith... the main thrust of Reich's argument is right on target... Reich documents in lurid detail the explosive growth of corporate lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions since the 1970s. Today's presidential candidates should study his message carefully.' -- New York Times 'The most original and honest criticism of the status quo that I have read for a long time.' -- Literary Review 'In Mr Brown's reading pile is 'Supercapitalism' by Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's former Labour Secretary. Mr Reich argues that firms and financiers, from Wal-Mart to Wall Street, have caused such a dizzying gulf between rich and poor that the "common good" has disappeared and Americans have lost control of their democracy. Perhaps Mr Brown should have studied this prophetic work sooner.' -- Daily Telegraph 'There are many good reasons to read this book, not least the genuine importance of the issues under consideration.' -- Spectator 'Smart and provocative ... Reich's proposed responses to 'Supercapitalism' are at once bold and surprising ... [he] challenges us to think deeply about political economy.' -- News & Observer 'Critically important ... the value of this book isn't in proposing a specific policy prescription. It's about waking up and educating several generations of Americans who can't seem to understand that you can't have it all for free ... It's the most important message anyone can impart today.' -- San Francisco Bay Guardian 'Reich is that most exotic of species: an economist who can write.' -- San Francisco magazine "Supercapitalism' is not a polemic or a call to arms. Reich is merely trying to dent capitalism's rock-star status while suggesting to a dazed citizenry that, as Shakespeare said of Caesar's Rome, the fault is not in our stars but in ourselves.' -- San Francisco Chronicle 'Surprising ... Reich paints a disturbing portrait of a world in which corporations have become our quasi-government.' -- Sunday Star-Ledger 'An engaging and insightful account.' -- Harvard Business Review 'Reich documents in lurid detail the explosive growth of coporate lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions since the 1970s... 'Supercapitalism' is a grand debunking of the conventional wisdom in the style of John Kenneth Galbraith.' -- New York Times 'Reich turns the standard liberal critique of corporations on its head.' -- Forbes 'A thoughtful and heartfelt critique of the ruthless, hell-bent-for-profit brand of capitalism that has been in vogue under Democrats and Republicans alike since roughly the end of the Cold War.' -- Portfolio "Supercapitalism' describes important and sweeping economic changes... Reich has a talent for making economics accessible and sometimes even fun.' -- Los Angeles Times 'Robert Reich is our generation's John Kenneth Galbraith. He has an unfailing eye for the big picture of politics and economics, and delivers sobering news with eloquence and wit. A splendid book.' -- Michael Sandel, author of 'Democracy's Discontent' 'A thought-provoking analysis. Reich reveals how the flood of corporate money is undermining our faith in democracy and argues that corporate social responsibility cannot be a substitute for true democracy. A must-read for anyone interested in the health of American democracy.' -- Laura Tyson, former chairman, National Economic Council 'With characteristic brilliance and eloquence, Robert Reich calls for something so sensible and simple it's striking: let capitalism serve democracy, rather than the other way round. He has written that rarest of books: a myth-busting business page-turner that's perfectly timed to recast our most critical public debates.' -- Jacob Hacker, author of 'The Great Risk Shift' 'Robert Reich has done it again, offering a powerful new perspective on the predicaments in which we as Americans find ourselves. 'Supercapitalism' high-lights a new kind of social conflict - between ourselves as consumers and investors and ourselves as democratic citizens.' -- Robert D. Putnam, author of 'Bowling Alone' "Supercapitalism' reminds us that the power of political courage grows when it is joined with clear thinking. Reich has delineated the role corporations play in our democracy today, argued persuasively why it needs to be limited, and offered solutions to return control of the government to the people. He has done his part. Now it is up to the citizens to respond if we are to have a more just America.' -- Bill Bradley, author of 'The New American Story'


'The most original and honest criticism of the status quo that I have read for a long time.' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Robert Reich (RR) has an interesting take on the development of capitalism in the last 40 years, particularly, though not exclusively, in the US. It's also one that might confound the expectations of critics who recall him as Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton. Some passages of the book might warm Milton Friedman's heart, were it now warmable. But the book is very weak on proposed solutions.

A rough outline of RR's themes, slightly rearranged from their presentation in the book, is as follows:

@@ We (not just Americans, but most of the developed world) are caught in a paradox today of doing very well as consumers and investors, while feeling increasingly powerless as citizens. "As consumers and investors we want the great deals" that the current form of capitalism brings, while "[a]s citizens we don't like many of the social consequences that flow from them," @ 89. Moreover, we don't know how to act effectively on our feelings as citizens - and we often direct our frustration at the wrong targets (such as at individual companies).

@@ The situation was quite different prior to, roughly, the 1970s (Chapter 1). American industry was dominated by oligopolies, consumers had less choice, the Dow was a fraction of what it is now. Government intervened to control wages and prices, which made established players in industry more secure. (RR points out that as recently as 1994, over half of the Fortune 500 had been founded before 1930, @19.). Citizens belonged to a wider variety of local, regional and national unions and voluntary groups that were "countervailing forces" (in JK Galbraith's phrase) to industry. Government spent more of its time mediating between these countervailing interests.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Citizen's Guide to the New Capitalism 9 July 2010
Why does the cotemporary capitalist economy appear to be a freight-train, hurling onwards in a seemingly unstoppable fashion, flattening any opposition in its wake? Robert Reich was former Secretary of Labour to Clinton and subsequently member of the Obama Transition Economic Advisory Board and in 'Supercapitalism' he advances a compelling explanation as to the origins of the inequalities, frenzied competition and insecurities of our times. The key according to Reich is not the defeat of organised labour in the 1980s, nor the parallel processes of privatisation and deregulation. Indeed, these are consequences of a process that marks a major shift from the 'Not Quite Gold Age' of the three decades after WWII. During this period, monopolistic corporations ruled the commanding heights of the US economy (and those of the rest of the developed world). Insulated from competition and under pressure from well organised unions, their profits were sufficiently large to share with their workers, which had the beneficial consequence of muting inequality and thus providing a large middle class to consume their goods. With a sufficiently large stake in the US political economy, corporate leaders were something like statesmen, arbitrating between competing interests.

According to Reich, this all changed with he advent of a new wave of technological innovation centred around computerisation and communications beginning in the 1970s. Competition on the basis of quality shook the old corporate dinosaurs out of their cosy complacency. Barriers to entering markets fell, leading to challenges to former monopolies by new upstarts. New technologies allowed consumers to compare products more easily, investors to shift their portfolios more rapidly, and retailers to move between different suppliers more rapidly.
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By Ioannis Glinavos VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The main idea in this book is that capitalism has morphed into 'supercapitalism' that has engulfed democracy. The reason for this according to Reich is that the incentives of the market are such that the pursuit of profit empowers investors and consumers as opposed to citizens. As the market caters to the needs of investors/consumers, it undercaters for public goods. These public goods can only be identified via the demcoratic process, but this process has become corrupted as more and more money pours into the system to make political platforms consistent with market needs.

So far so good. Reich expresses well what many others have discovered.

The problem with the book and the argument however is that it seriously underplays the role of ideas and ideology. For Reich, emphasis on ideas is an academic's obsession. I disagree. Reich finds that supercapitalism empowers consumers, but does not discuss the comprehensive manipulation of consumer desires via advertising and marketing. Reich suggests that investors are all powerful because they have a lot of choice and the ability to move their money around. Choice and ability they have, but this does not equate to power. How often have we heard discussions lamenting poor corporate governance as a result of poor involvment of investors (say pension funds) in corporate decision making. This issue is also left unexplored.

Finally, Reich's proposals for exiting this problem and reinvigorating democracy seem incomplete. I guess they are better developed in other publications. The book however would be better if the key idea (that democracy needs to bring capitalism back under its control) was more fully developed.

In summary, a useful and thought-provoking book, but more an identification of a problem, rather a pathway to solutions.
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