12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From Democracy to Plutocracy
I doubt that the book was designed this way, but The Wrecking Crew fits nicely as the third part of a trilogy, the other two parts being 'One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy' (2002) and 'What's the Matter with America?: The Resistible Rise of the American Right' (2004).
In 'One Market Under God', Frank...
Published on 7 Sep 2008 by Diziet
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Should be better known
If McCain had won in November, and what a relief it is that he didn't, then this book would have been a runaway bestseller like What's the Matter with Kansas? was in 2005. Then, Frank correctly predicted that the Republicans would win and explained why. In this book he appears to assume that the Republicans would win again, and since they didn't it might seem as if the...
Published on 12 Mar 2009 by Ian M. Buchanan
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From Democracy to Plutocracy,
This review is from: The Wrecking Crew (Paperback)I doubt that the book was designed this way, but The Wrecking Crew fits nicely as the third part of a trilogy, the other two parts being 'One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy' (2002) and 'What's the Matter with America?: The Resistible Rise of the American Right' (2004).
In 'One Market Under God', Frank discusses the rise of 'extreme capitalism' and the ascendancy of laissez-faire economics.
'What's The Matter With America?' (which, I think, is pretty much the same as Kansas) looks at the phenomenon of working class voters voting against their own best interests, in favour of conservative big business.
'The Wrecking Crew' brings these two threads together to try to explain, as the book is subtitled, 'how conservatives rule'.
The book is divided into two sections: Part 1: Insurgents and Part 2: Saboteurs.
First, then, the book attempts to cover how extreme conservatism has infiltrated not just the government, but the governing system. The exponential growth of lobbying companies within the Washington Beltway and the 'revolving doors' of both these companies and government departments blurs the lines between business interests and government policies - where does lobbying end and policy formulation begin?
Part 2 takes this further and shows how these extreme conservatives are actively attempting to destroy the government machine, moving from democracy to plutocracy. Further, not content with simply privatising as much of government as possible, the conservatives go further and are consolidating their victories by 'de-funding' the left, ensuring the permanent rule of the New Economic Plutocracy.
It's powerful stuff. Although many of the examples Frank gives for his views are current or certainly of the very recent past (Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff), he does link the 'movement' to it's historical roots. The US has nearly always had plutocratic leanings, certainly up to the 1920s, but with the advent of The Great Depression, a new liberal consensus was formed that pretty much lasted up until Reagan.
How did Reagan get into power? By suggesting to voters that 'big government' was bad and was eating up all the wealth created by ordinary people. Of course, in the UK, we had Thatcher.
Pretty much from then on, the right set about 'getting government out of business and getting business into government'. There are several of these catchy little phrases. Another is 'a good bureaucrat is a bad bureaucrat'. In other words, the less efficiently a government department works, the easier it is to sell it off. Thus, there is an incentive to ensure that the people put in charge of government departments do not have that departments best interest at heart (to put it mildly). The right can then point to the inefficiencies of 'big government' - they have set up a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The role of the lobbyist is fairly key to the whole process - the lobbyist provides the link between government and business. And some of these lobbying companies have pretty dubious backgrounds. For example, it seems pretty clear that the International Freedom Foundation was, if not a front organisation for, funded almost exclusively by the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The 'de-funding' of the left is also a crucial strategy in ensuring the continuance of the extreme free market agenda. Apart from attacks on unions, organised labour and other sources of funding of the left, conservatives have realised that, by running up a huge deficit while in power, when they are no longer in power, the left expends all its energy in reducing the deficit - inevitably by raising taxes and cutting spending. It is, therefore, in the conservatives interests to destroy the economics of government as a further step in the destruction of government itself - and the final, permanent victory of the free market and business.
This review is longer than I meant it to be - but Thomas Frank packs in a huge amount in the 275 pages of this book, all fully annotated in a further 80 odd pages, and this is not an exhaustive review by any means. Much of the time while reading it, I was thinking of Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism) and Adam Curtis's TV documentary 'The Century of the Self' - free market economics and the selfish individual. There seems to be a growing consensus here.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Should be better known,
This review is from: The Wrecking Crew (Paperback)If McCain had won in November, and what a relief it is that he didn't, then this book would have been a runaway bestseller like What's the Matter with Kansas? was in 2005. Then, Frank correctly predicted that the Republicans would win and explained why. In this book he appears to assume that the Republicans would win again, and since they didn't it might seem as if the book is irrelevant. What Frank should have said is that even if Obama wins, as he duly did, nothing much will really change in Washington, because Washington is Washington. And this much is true as Obama's usual suspects appointments more than bears out. So it should really be retitled as this is how Washinton works irrespective of who is in power. Read that way it is a powerful reminder of just how much needs to actually change before we truly get some of that change we can believe promised on inauguration day Jan 2009. This is an important book and should be better known in the UK than it is -- I've given it 3 stars, however, because in contrast to the previous work it does not explain how things have gotten to be as they are, and that is of course the question that really matters right now.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Enemy Within,
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This review is from: The Wrecking Crew (Paperback)This book is a historically informed, fantastically well written look at the U.S. political system with particular emphasis on the Conservative Republicans who have dominated it for so long.
Franks, who has obviously put a lot of effort into researching this book, digs deep into the activities and thinking of right wing conservatism which has given the U.S. such nefarious characters as Ollie North, Ronald Regan, Tom De Lay and the recently departed (well just the Oval office, but hey I liked the sound of it) George W. Bush.
A convincing case is made, and with plenty of evidence not least from their own mouths, that the conservatives interest in making Government work for the ordinary people of the U.S. is pretty much non-existant. The picture of the so-called conservatives that he paints is not exactly pretty for anyone with a commitment to democracy: the rampant cronyism in appointments to the civil service (loyalty to the "conservative" cause above integrity and ability), mercenary lobbying for the rich and corporations at the expense of their constituents, a total contempt for professional civil servants, their crude totalitarian mentality as well as breath taking mendacity.
The case that the conservatives are intent on damaging government as a force for the common good of Americans is comprehensively made. The immense deficits they run up, the running down of regulatory bodies, the Labor department, the incompetent but politically correct right wingers they appoint to government bodies . . . the list could be endless. The chapter on the Mariana Islands (taken by U.S. at end of WW2) is a revelation. The islands are exempt from many U.S. laws - it's a neo-liberal utopia: low taxes, little or no protection for labor who are all contracted from neighbouring poor countries (ie. indentured servants) who endure low wages, long hours and live under an abusive regime where they can be deported at their employers whim. This IS the conservatives/neo-liberal ideal in reality. All this is supported by conservative lobbyists such as the recently jailed Bush buddy Jack Abramoff who puffed it up as the "laboratory of liberty" (for whom?) and characterised attempts to apply labor and other regulatory laws and rights for the workers as having the same effect on the islanders (the business owners that is) as the Nuremburg laws had on the Jews.
Fluently written and thoughtful with a biting sense of humour this is criticism at its best, and the target thoroughly deserves it. It is an interesting insight into the American system of "Democracy" and not withstanding the recent election of Obama it is still a book with much relevance.
If you havent read Franks already its worth getting a hold of his earlier two books One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism and the End of Economic Democracy and What's the Matter with America?: The Resistible Rise of the American Right.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I can't find my jaw!,
This review is from: The Wrecking Crew (Paperback)Imagine the following scenario: You find your house broken into, vandalised and robbed. You turn to the local police. After making a half-hearted show of looking around, they admit they can't do anything for you because, frankly, they're useless because that's the civil service for you. So they give you the number of a hotshot private security firm i.e. Mafia who, they say, will help you out for a small fee. Which turns out to be a big fee. & this Mafia aren't much more help. Then you notice there's something familiar about them. Why - they are, in fact, the same police officers you were just speaking to - only now in disguise. & - just to complete the circle, you then find out that this local Mafia/ police force were the ones who burgled your house in the first place!
Absurd? This is Thomas Frank's view of American politics over the past few decades. His theory is this: Since the 1980s the American government has been run by a steely new species of conservative whose distinguishing feature is that they don't believe in government. Thus they aim to wreck it- by throwing money around, piling up deficits, squandering resources, and promoting incompetents. In short - by doing all the things that us wacky rebellious subversive cynics are hip to. And that too is part of the scam. Because, after wrecking the government, these conservatives then turn around, point the finger at the wreckage they themselves caused and say, "See! Government doesn't work! Better go private!" So - you go private &, thanks to a revolving door spinning faster than a helicopter's rotor blades, you find yourself paying into companies run by these same (ex) government hacks.
On our way through this "winger wonderland" we have lots of interesting sideshows. Such as the island of Saipan - a "free market paradise" i.e. labour camp complete with interminable shifts, stinking work conditions and locked exit doors. When these pesky unpatriotic liberals on mainland America caught a whiff of the dirt encrusted sweat wafting across & demanded the application of US labour protection laws our wingers fumed in righteous indignation about the "racism" of imposing outside laws to interfere with the "natural" wage structure. Thus did they defend the right of the peasants to be ripped off.
Then there was the Jamba "rumble in the jungle" - a kind of inverted Woodstock where various terrorists - sorry, freedom fighters - came to the back of beyond for a display of militaristic muscular kitsch. (You couldn't make this up!)
Then there's the touchy subject of South African apartheid - a system the wingers had no objection to since a victimised downtrodden race make excellently profitable wage slaves. But when - yet again - those damned liberal sentiments turned everyone against this shining example of the free market doing its edifying job, our wingers lost no time in switching sides, got all self righteous again and blamed apartheid on "socialism". Their argument? Who needs one! Just constantly repeat the word "apartheid" along with the word "socialism" and the link is magically made. Cf. "Saddam Hussain" and "Al Qaeda".
And if you're thinking "Those crazy yanks! Only in America!" etc. don't be so smug. What do you think Thatcher, Major and Blair were up to all these years? Also consider the recent high profile coverage of MP's scandalous expenses. "Government, eh? Who needs it! Think I'll go private!"
Want to see the future of "The West"? Hello, Saipan!
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An evangel for corruption,
This review is from: The Wrecking Crew (Paperback)Based principally on the DeLay-Abramoff affair with its muddy torrent of graft, Thomas Frank denounces highly emotionally but limpidly the agenda of the conservative right concerning the State and its government, as well as their ideology of selfishness and greed.
The core of US conservatism is the interests of business. These interests are mightily more important than their `free market' evangel. Mechanisms like tariff walls, public subsidies, monopolies, no-bid contracts or patent protections, will be adopted without any resistance if they enhance profits.
The conservative right sees the liberal State as a perversion, as a corruption of private interests (taxes), not as an instrument to service the population as a whole.
When they took power, they sabotaged the working of the government by appointing ferocious opponents of State agencies (EPA, FDA, SEC) at their head. They even created anti-agencies (OIRA, Council on Competitiveness).
For them, all public services should be subjected to the market system, because that is the most efficient way of ruling. In other words, those services have to be managed by private interests.
For Thomas Frank, the result of these policies was a rip-off. The institutions created for the protection of the population became institutions for the exploitation of the population (arms industry, anti-terrorism, administration of Iraq, recovery of hurricane Katrina ...).
One of the main targets of the conservatives is the Welfare State. The money flows of the welfare programs should be privately managed, thereby generating colossal commissions for a bunch of Wall Street managers, while in the meantime `defunding the left'.
For Thomas Frank, this is a sure way for turning US politics into a plutocracy and concomitantly a `bought' government.
Through lobbyism and pure propaganda for the agenda of the Right, conservatism itself became a business with monster fees for the preachers.
A US senator asked a few years ago: `Have you missed the government?'
If the government had not intervened heavily in the huge banking crisis of the last years, the whole capitalist system would have been turned into a desert, an enormous Great Depression for many years to come. The other side of the coin would have been an astonishing handover of all political, economic and financial world powers to the East (China).
This book is a must read for all those who want to understand the world we live in.
N.B. James K. Galbraith treated the same all important issues in a more theoretical way in his formidable book `The Predator State'.
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The Wrecking Crew by Thomas Frank (Paperback - 7 Aug 2008)