[Despite some weaknesses, this books offers a useful addition to
the widespread and ongoing conversations about what democratic
socialism means today.] [https://portside.org/] 




 Thomas Klikauer and Norman Simms 
 February 24, 2020
Marx & Philosophy Review of Books

	* [https://portside.org/node/22388/printable/print]

 _ Despite some weaknesses, this books offers a useful addition to the
widespread and ongoing conversations about what democratic socialism
means today. _ 

 , Oxford University Press 


_The 99 Percent Economy: How Democratic Socialism Can Overcome the
Crises of Capitalism_
Paul S Adler
Oxford: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 9780190931889

In seven exquisitely written chapters plus an introduction, US
business school academic Paul Adler explains three things: (a) why our
current economy works well for about 1% of the world population; (b)
whilst it barely works for the rest of us 99%; and (c) what we can do
to change this. Perhaps ever since David Ricardo and Karl Marx began
writing about capitalism, it has always seemed to be in one state of
crisis or another. Adler lists the six main crises as (1.) economic
irrationality, (2.) workplace disempowerment, (3.) unresponsive
government, (4.) social disintegration and (5.) international
conflict. Unforeseen by the giants of economic theory during the 19th
century, a new kind of crisis has recently been added. The sixth is
the crisis of environmental unsustainability, the real prospect of an_
uninhabitable earth_ (Wallace-Wells 2017). All of this links to
Jameson’s dictum that _it is easier to imagine_ _an __end_ _to_ the
_world_ _than an_ _end_ _to capitalism._

Adler’s book starts with ‘the argument’ in which he highlights
that ‘the Walton family [Walmart] alone … has more wealth than 40%
of American families combined’ (1). This destroys the ‘rags to
riches’ ideology which most Americans have been made to believe in.
Adler argues that ‘there is something profoundly offensive about the
fact that eight people, six of them in the USA, now own as much in
assets as the entire bottom 50% of the world’s population’ (10).
It is bad enough when huge numbers of people are either unemployed or
grossly underpaid for their labour. But when people go to work and
think they are earning a fair or living wage, statistics belie their
beliefs. Today, ‘only 45% of employees feel their employers listen
to their ideas or concerns’ and only ‘31% feel their employers
show concern for employees not just for the financial bottom line’

In regard to the environment, things do not look much better. ‘By
1970, humanity had already exceeded the carrying capacity of the
planet … we are killing off other species at an extraordinary rate
… climate change already cost 400,000 lives a year, globally’
(15). Meanwhile, in America ‘money and work [remain] the biggest
sources of stress’ (17), resulting, for example, in the fact that
‘men in Harlem live less long than men in Bangladesh’ (18).
Meanwhile, US life expectancy is still on the decline. Much of this
comes despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that we now have
greater corporate social responsibility and business ethics. Yet
individual responsibility and social morality have all but

At the international level, things do not look much brighter. Our
globalized world is moving further and further away from German
philosopher Immanuel Kant’s dream of eternal perpetual peace based
on a world government. Instead, the USA, for example, has ‘helped to
overthrow at least thirty-six governments, interfered in at least
eighty-four foreign elections, attempted to assassinate over fifty
foreign leaders [with the Iranian g_eneral_ and chief terrorist Qasem
Soleimani being the latest] and dropped bombs on people in over thirty
countries [while also] provid[ing] aid to three-quarters of the world
dictatorships’ (20). Other countries, western democracies, Russia,
third world kleptocracies, oligarchies and a variety of failed states
do as much or worse according to their proportionate size, wealth and
influence. Nobody occupies the moral high ground any longer and the
sea levels are rising quickly.

Given all this, Adler argues that ‘[c]rises are a feature of
capitalism, not a bug’ (27). The same goes for unemployment. The
‘threat of unemployment always lurks. Unemployment is not an
unfortunate accidental outcome, but a permanent feature of
capitalism’ (32). There simply is no unemployment without
capitalism. The structural asymmetry between labour and capital
manifests itself at work as well because ‘the great majority of us
negotiates our pay and working conditions at a structural
disadvantage, because we need the job more than the employer need any
one of us’ (31).

For many employers, labour is not much more than another production
cost. Unlike labourers, companies can off-load such costs onto someone
else. This is called _externality_. The environment, for example, is
an externality. ‘Capitalism is a system that consumes forests, fish,
minerals, soil fertility, and fresh water faster than they can be
replenished [Thus] capitalism [as an extreme form of
industrialization] encourages environmental plunder … this plunder
boosts the bottom line’ (39). Not only that, capitalism also
destroys the environment by dumping unwanted waste into the

All this, so Adler argues, leads to a ‘growing tension’ (49). To
alleviate this tension or what Harvey has named the s_eventeen
contradictions of capitalism _(2014)_, _four avenues of approach are
usually proposed. The first is what Adler calls ‘ethical
capitalism’ (60) – a version of _please, be nice_ capitalism. This
anodyne version is often found in the more enlightenment corners of
business schools and economics faculties. In business schools, it is
sold as ‘win-win opportunities [that] help … competitiveness’
(61). The next _l’idée fixe_ is that one can make capitalism good
by regulating it. It comes under the hallucination that good laws make
good capitalism. The third idea is that social democracy will solve
problems. British sociologist Giddens made it famous in _Third Way
_(1998). In the subsequent Blair years, poverty rose as corporations
thrived and wealth hoovered upwards rather than trickle down. The last
delusion is that of technology. Modern technology – the internet of
things, battery-driven cars, etc. – will solve our problems. None of
these seem to have worked so far.

Since the comprehensive failure of all four models, Adler proposes
that our economy needs to be democratically managed. He suggests four
ways: (i) collaborative strategizing, i.e., democratic planning
through ‘identifying our common goals’ (79); (ii) collaborative
innovations. This means that R&D is geared towards human – rather
than corporate – needs; (iii) collaborative learning that shifts the
current ‘factory’ model of education substantially; (iv) inside
companies, our current control and command model needs to move towards
‘collaborative working’ (99). As an expert on workplace relations,
Adler suggests four innovative ways (101) in which the latter can be
achieved: (a) the articulation of collective goals; (b) on-going,
reasoned discussions about how these collective goals relate to
everyday work decisions; (c) evaluations and pay systems that
reinforce the combination of individualism and collectivism; and (d)
the development of distinctive skills.

All this leads Adler to suggest even further that ‘we must replace
private enterprise with publicly owned enterprise’ (113). So far so
good. While many have suggested this before, Adler also has a chapter
on ‘getting there’ (145) in which he develops four scenarios. To
build the momentum for the establishment of public rather than state
ownership, nor nationalisation, Adler conceives of four spheres: (1)
the political sphere, (2) the workplace sphere, (3) schools and
universities and (4) our communities (150). Despite the rise of
populism around the world from India to Brazil, with great headline
stars such as Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, Adler concludes
‘progressives have reason to be optimistic about the prospects for
democratic socialism in the twenty-first century [moving towards] the
creation of an economy for the 99% – it is urgently needed’ (156).

Paul Adler’s fine, well-argued, exquisite and insightful book is
full of astute evaluations and analysis. It makes many sensible
suggestions, if – and only if – all this makes much sense in the
real world, where forces, people and ideas do not come in neatly set
out lists, paradigms and bullet points. The problem remains, why
can’t we find ourselves in the place so powerfully described by
Adler? It is very well conceivable that Adler is making a mistake many
others before him have made. It is possible that there might be a
_scotoma_ or ‘blindspot’ (Smythe 1977). In his seminal article
entitled ‘Communications: Blindspot of Western Marxism’, Smythe
alludes to the role of communication, or better the media, in
capitalism. The media remains a powerful institution in capitalism and
in democratic societies. We know capitalism, neoliberalism, politics,
Donald Trump largely through the media. As such, the media is an
important gatekeeper in society linking the individual to society.
Smythe’s core argument is that one needs to take the role of the
media into consideration when discussing capitalism and society. It is
a question that comes whether such an analysis is conducted from the
standpoint of ‘Western Marxism’, as in Smythe, or from the
standpoint Adler has taken.

Essentially, the argument missing in Adler’s otherwise brilliant
book is a tendency to undervalue the role of the media in capitalism.
In capitalism, capital not only owns factories that make things like
shoes and cars but also includes companies that make news,
entertainment, etc., and here it can be said that the media has two
functions. It’s role is not just to sell us consumer goods but also
creates what Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer have called _mass
deception._ This function legitimises capitalism largely through
camouflaging the aforementioned contradictions of capitalism. This is
the case whether it is liberal capitalism, social-democratic
capitalism or neoliberal capitalism. Today, we seem to experience a
world in which its prime ideology – neoliberalism and more recent
hallucinations – are transitioning towards the ‘Age of Populism’
(Ricci 2020). Sadly, our world does not appear to move towards
Adler’s ‘prospects for democratic socialism’, but towards
right-wing populism (Klikauer 2020).


	* Giddens, Anthony 1998 Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy
Oxford: Polity
 	* Harvey, David 2014 Seventeen Contradictions and the End of
Capitalism New York: Oxford University Press
 	* Klikauer, Thomas 2020 Alternative Für Deutschland the AfD:
Germanys New Nazis Or Another Populist Party? Eastbourne: Sussex
Academic Press
 	* Ricci, David M 2020 Political Science Manifesto for the Age of
Populism Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
 	* Smythe, Dallas W 1977 Communications: Blindspot of Western Marxism
Canadian Journal of Political and Society Theory 1(3): 1–28
 	* Wallace-Wells, David 2017 The Uninhabitable Earth New York
Magazine 10 July

Thomas Klikauer (MA, Boston University; PhD Warwick University, UK)
teaches MBAs at the Sydney Graduate School of Management, Western
Sydney University, Australia. He writes for Counterpunch.org and
Truthout.org. His latest book is on the AfD party in Germany (Sussex
Academic Press, 2020).

Norman Simms was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1940, educated at Alfred
University and then Washington University in Saint Louis. He has lived
and worked in Canada, Israel, France and New Zealand. He is now a
retired scholar.

	* [https://portside.org/node/22388/printable/print]







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