A Review of Robert Reich’s Supercapitalism

Reich_robert19970814004r_2 Tony Judt in the NYRB:

We live in an economic age. For two centuries following the French Revolution, Western political life was dominated by a struggle pitting left against right: “progressives”—whether liberal or socialist—against their conservative opponents. Until recently these ideological frames of reference were still very much alive and determined the rhetoric if not the reality of public choice. But in the course of the past generation the terms of political exchange have altered beyond recognition. Whatever remained of the reassuring fatalism of the old left narrative —the inspiring conviction that “History” was on your side—was buried after 1989 along with “real existing socialism.” The traditional political right suffered a related fate. From the 1830s through the 1970s, to be on the right meant opposing the left’s account of inevitable change and progress: “conservatives” conserved, “reactionaries” reacted. They were “counterrevolutionary.” Hitherto energized by its rejection of now-defunct progressive convictions, the political right today has also lost its bearings.

The new master narrative—the way we think of our world—has abandoned the social for the economic. It presumes an “integrated system of global capitalism,” economic growth, and productivity rather than class struggles, revolutions, and progress. Like its nineteenth-century predecessors, this story combines a claim about im-provement (“growth is good”) with an assumption about inevitability: globalization—or, for Robert Reich, “supercapitalism”—is a natural process, not a product of arbitrary human decisions. Where yesterday’s theorists of revolution rested their worldview upon the inevitability of radical social upheaval, today’s apostles of growth invoke the analogously ineluctable dynamic of global economic competition. Common to both is the confident identification of necessity in the present course of events. We are immured, in Emma Rothschild’s words, in an uncontested “society of universal commerce.” Or as Margaret Thatcher once summarized it: There Is No Alternative.