Top critical review
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Basically total rubbish, though with a few redeeming qualities
on 25 June 2008
The foundations of any argument or discussion are the common knowledge and assumptions of the listener and speaker. For example, it would not be possible to convince somebody that 2+3=5 unless the listener has a firm idea of at least the concepts of "2" and "3." Likewise, if you start a discussion based on the notion that the earth is 6000 years old, some fundamentalist christian might have no trouble building from that to a discussion of the geneology of adam and eve, while a scientist would, at minimum, demand some proof or evidence of the 6000 year old claim before going any further.
What, then, to be made of a book which early on states baldly: "[The WTO and IMF] will pursue only the policies in the developing world which are of benefit to the economy of the United States and the interests of the financial speculators, even when these conflict directly with the needs of the poor."? If not the political equivalent of creationism, this is, at the very least, a highly contentious statement.
To offer such a statement without supporting evidence suggests, basically, that the book is written for those who are already of a certain mindset about how the world works. There's nothing particularly wrong with this - after all, a calculus textbook doesn't need to go back to 1+1 have legitimacy. However if a political book which is attempting to map out a new world order uses at its base assumptions such contentious statements, then certainly it can only appeal to that segment of the population which takes such ideas as a given.
Indeed, in this lie the strengths and weaknesses of the book.
Let's say you're well-meaning but somewhat naive stereotypical anti-globalization protester. For you, this book borders on perfect in that it starts with many of your core assumptions and builds upon them and gives them structure. For example, Monbiot is sharp indeed in recognizing the folly of terms such as "anti-globalization", in pointing out places where "the movement" has picked wrong targets, in pointing out the folly of certain symbolic actions that "the movement" has engaged in, and so forth. He's also very correct in many areas of analysis in showing where such movements have done very well, and in showing some of the organizational problems of such generally commonly-minded organizations and institutions in achieving their goals. Indeed, this sort of analysis of today's left is the best part of the book and it shows the author's deep experience with and thinking about such issues.
In as much as the book may help to improve the structure and rigor of the argumentation of those who already share some of the author's political assumptions, it really is a nice book.
Alas, it falls down badly otherwise.
Now, before you think of me of some right-wing tory dinosaur or what have you, I'd like to state for the record that I consider myself quite progressive - in fact, radically so in many areas. Many of the issues Monbiot attempts to address are near and dear to my own heart. However, I also believe myself to have a basic understanding of economics and political science - something that he, unfortunately, seems to lack. This book is one which delivers screed after screed about debt and international finance organizations, but lacks anything but a comic book understanding about what finance and what such organizations really do. There is basically zero understanding of what sort of systems can contribute to long-term healthy economies and improvements in quality of life. Instead, we get tragically naive wealth redistribution plans and equally naive development plans (he neglects to mention, for example, that the magical seeds which he touts as helping agriculture in previously un-arable areas are the products of those evil corporations he spends much of the book randing about). Typical of such works (and, while I'm not at all sgugesting that this book has much to do with communism, let's face it: the error was huge in communism too), the basic problems of human motivation are totally ignored - in his world, there is basically "greed" (white, bad people) and "poorness" (dark. good people) and all behavior can be inferred from these characteristics.
Ideas such as his 600-member world parliament are fundamentally not bad, but they lack any sort of nuance or workability - basically, that's all that's there; the idea that earth's 6 billion or so people be represented by a 600 member assembly in which each representative represents a roughly equal number of persons. It's the sort of idea that well meaning amd bright 13-year olds have... which doesn't make it a bad, but it really needs development and coherence if it is to belong in an adult book.
It's really odd, too.. because Monbiot is clearly a very bright guy. It comes through in little glimmers here in there. But between the "here and there" is monotonous, poorly evidenced, much ranting, and just not very well thought through navel-gazing. Additionally, the history he cites is often very distorted and clearly, crucially, the trained zoologist has no real unerstanding of macroeconomics whatsoever.
Those looking for something nuanced and intelligent, avoid.