The New Prophets of Capital

cover57380-mediumNicole Aschoff
Verso Books

We live in a capitalist and free market world, and many of us struggle to keep our heads above the globalization waters. So when some-one, especially someone wildly successful, comes along to tell us how to stop clinging to the wreckage and swim safely to shore, we listen. After all, they made it, and now they’re telling us how to do it.

There’s just one problem. All of the solutions uncritically assume that the current economic and political system is a given: if not inevitable, it’s not going to change anytime soon. And that assumption condemns most of us to an unequal and inequitable existence. In a free-for-all market system of course there will be winners, but they always will be vastly outnumbered by the losers and the left behind.

This is the central theme of The New Prophets of Capital: the system itself is the cause of our problems, and any fix anchored in that system is fundamentally unsound.

The New Prophets of Capital is the story of four hugely successful capitalists — Cheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook; John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods; Oprah Winfrey; and Bill and Melinda Gates –each of whom offers a different version of a “just swim faster” solution to the threatening waters around us.

… a new generation of storytellers has emerged to tell us what’s wrong with society and how to fix it. The most powerful of these storytellers aren’t poor or working people, they are the super-elite.

This short but insightful book examines the success strategy of each mogul and shows how each represents a winner’s perspective on how to compete within the system. None of them has anything to say about how we might change the system — how we might, rather than expanding slightly the number of winners, minimize or eliminate the loser category itself.

These success stories are important because they are presented to us as new fables, a set of 21st century Horatio Alger stories, but without the lucky break that always helped our poor hero reach the top. It wouldn’t be smart to remind people that extreme free market capitalism as it’s practiced today is a brutal and unforgiving libertarian lottery, a technologically-enhanced social Darwinism where the tree of life has been replaced by a Ponzi pyramid.

There’s a kind of Flatland quality in these stories. If there’s no perception of an extra dimension, of a world not driven by capitalist free markets, it’s hard even to conceive of an alternative, much less to construct one. If our stories are grounded in the present system, where will we learn of any other way to live?

“Stop losing and win the game!” teaches an entirely different lesson than does “Change the game so that everybody wins!”


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