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This review is from: The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers (Paperback)
This book made me think: is it really true Adam Smith's catchphrase - "the invisible hand of the market" - has penetrated our collective unconscious? While Michael suggests it has in America, I'm not sure about the UK. But what I do reckon is that for over two hundred years a host of powerful men have put considerable effort into trying to get us, not just to feel the hand, but to worship it. This book explains how they've gone about it, including translating Smith's rhetoric into Nobel prize-winning equations which prove him right: "perfect markets" - those completely free from state and trade union intervention - automatically produce optimal allocation of scare resources. If the market fails to do so, that only proves there's still too many barriers still out there, pesky things like minimum wages and social security. Sweep them away and free the hand to do its beneficient pushing. Hoards of consultants and lobbyists are paid to do just that deep cleansing.
But while I think there's quite a strong anti-market tradition in Britain, or at least a certain scepticism, Michael's book helped explain a more subtle but still debilitating influence that seeps out from market economics. It nudges us to obsess about exchange and circulation rather than production. While we're entitled to worry about getting a job - and economics tells us we must search high and low to find one - we mustn't complain about what we do when we've got one. The entire realm of production - of what we do at work and who tells us to do it - is off grounds.
Michael puts work and working firmly back on the agenda. In doing so he helps restore a focus on production, a shift helped by a smart reworking of Smith's metaphor. It's not an invisible hand guiding us, its a pair of invisible handcuffs binding us to exploitative and often wasteful working conditions, handcuffs which simultaneously trap the productive forces within the narrow bounds of profit making. And economics acts as a key component of the ideology of capitalism, its task being to blind us to the reality of work and to allow the super-rich to get ever richer.
It's not the job of this book to produce blue-prints. But it does something very important, it gets us thinking about what really goes on in our factories and offices. In my case, it made me review my working experiences with all their pettiness and and downright nonsense. And it says things don't need to be this way. Above all it says we should collectively focus on designing, producing and distributing useful things, something only a tiny proportion of humanity are currently involved in - and even then in often dangerous conditions. The aim should be to free us all from unnecessary toil and massively reduce the working day so we can collaboratively hone a genuinly civilised economy, one which effectively balances the needs of workers with the protection of the environment. It can be done, just as long as we give our wrists a good shake and cast off those damn invisible handcuffs.
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