Top positive review
34 people found this helpful
on 17 November 2007
Two writers who interest me because of the quality of their writings and the arguments which they put forward are Michael Prowse and John Gray. Both of these men have at one time been associated with what is known as the New Right, a term generally taken to mean, a heterogenous group of academics, intellectuals, scholars, journalists and sundry others who contributed to the resurgence of classical liberal, whig and similar ideas associated with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Both of these authors have since turned away from those ideas and developed their thinking in other directions.
When I began to read this book I was reminded on Hayek's reason for not reviewing Keynes' General Theory: that he did not need to do so as he believed that Keynes would once again change his mind. However, as I proceeded to immerse myself in the material I began to gain some insight into the direction that Gray has gone.
I am sure that there are many who would simply dismiss these ideas as not worthy of serious consideration given that Gray is considered a turncoat in some quarters, and there are some who would merely denounce them from a simplistic neo-liberal point of view but I believe that such attitudes are seriously misguided. As Peter Wynarczyk once pointed out to me, we must all put our theories in the public domain so that they may be tested against competing theories. We can build walls against attack but then what use is a theory which is merely conditional. Gray recognises that many who swear allegiance to the neo-liberal doctrines have not fully thought through the implications of those theories and similarly also recognises the political ramifications of those policies when implemented by politicians and others.
After reading this book I am not coninced that Gray himself is anti-market. He seems to articulate a view of markets which are set within a social context, indeed he postulates competing capitalisms which to my mind is fully compatible within a classical liberal framework.
The target of his attack appears to be what he views as a programme, a political programme, of a world order based on a contemporary American conception of what a free market ought to be. Whereas Gray argues that the emergence of the phenomenon of globalisation is driven by the spread of new technologies as opposed to the breaking down of barriers against open or laissez faire economics, he develops the notion of a particular type of capitalism hell bent on world domination. False Dawn assesses the damage to other capitalisms and the implications thereof, and foresees a time when the general applicability of American capitalism will ultimately lead to it's demise and at a great cost. He believes that this juggernaut cannot be stopped easily due to the damage done to the power of the state through the past twenty or so years of it's extension to the global economy.
False Dawn also places this attempt to global economic domination within a context of the grand ideas of the Enlightenment and argues that as such it is doomed to failure. Gray writes comprehensively, providing examples from different capitalisms to support his theory and cleverly finds common results which support his findings. I found myself in disagreement with the notion that technology is an impetus for globalisation as I believe that the development and spread of technology is the result of an economic process rather than an instigator. Neither was I convinced of the fatality of his work. Even were I convinced of the disasterous consequences of the spread of one particular type of capitalism, I believe that the market process, through the creation of competitive forces will cause other capitalisms to fight for domination. Gray quotes Schumpeter's view on the nature of laissez faire in destroying and rebuilding to mourn the changes within societies but this is a double edged sword. Who is to say what was swept away is not worse than what is built?
Overall I think that this work is excellent and that it deserves serious attention rather than casual dismissal. False Dawn has some important arguements which policy makers, academics and intellectuals would do well to consider. The strength of ideas lies in their capacity to deal with attacks because it is only through those attacks that weakenesses, if not fatal flaws, can be detected. If we are confident in our belief in those ideas we should welcome attacks like Gray's for in the end we will find improvement.