Labor of Development: Workers and the Transformation of Capitalism in
Cornell University Press,
According to the "Washington consensus," trade
liberalization and privatization are elixirs for economic development.
Indias state of Kerala provides striking evidence against this
neoliberal dogma. Public policies in Kerala have put the well-being
of its citizens first through a host of public health, education, and
regulatory supports. The astonishing consequences are much noted in
development circles: extremely high literacy (91 percent), long life
expectancy (71 years), low infant mortality (thirteen per 1,000 live
births), and high socioeconomic equality. Patrick Hellers insightful
study shows how popular movements mobilized politically, and occasionally
won power through contested elections. They used this social and political
power to construct markets in land, labor, and capital on terms very
favorable to workers, and so to the interest of the vast majority.
Finance at Risk: The Case for International Regulation
John Eatwell and Lance Taylor
The New Press, $22.95
In an era in which global markets are supposed to have
made economic regulation obsolete, a proposal for a new World Financial
Authority is tacking against the wind. Nevertheless, this little book
makes a strong case. Eatwell and Taylor argue that the financial crises
that have periodically swept the world since the end of the Bretton
Woods systemsuch as one the one that struck East and Southeast
Asia in 1997are not the result of misbehavior by governments,
but the inevitable (though unpredictable) result of an under-regulated
global financial system. What regulation currently exists is conducted
by the International Monetary Fund, whose unvarying package of austerity,
deregulation, and further openness seldom restores growth or stability.
Indeed, its not clear that growth and stability are always the
goal: Eatwell and Taylor suggest that the IMFs response to the
Asian crisis was intended not to stabilize the regions economies
but to "dismantle the Asian model," regardless of the human consequences.
Global Finance at Risk offers a compelling proposal for a different
financial architecturea global financial regulator and lender
of last resort that is better funded than the IMF but does not face
the same onerous conditions on its lending. The book is silent, however,
on who might build such an institution.
J. W. Mason
Darker Ribbon: Breast Cancer, Women, and Their Doctors in the Twentieth
Beacon Press, $22 (cloth),
This social history of breast cancer constructs a surprising,
challenging, and illuminating account of a grim subject. Writing with
graceful intensity and working from a nuanced feminist appreciation
of the complex relations between gender and culture, Ellen Leopold traces
the intertwined medical dilemmas of understanding and treatment that
cancer in general presents, with the distinctive and profound cultural
dimensions peculiar to a killing, chronic disease that attacks mainly
older women, involves an exceptionally "charged" part of a
womans body, and historically has been treated by male surgeons.
The book provides a coherent historical account, including two moving
correspondences between patients and surgeonsone involving the
creator of the radical mastectomy and the other between the author Rachel
Carson and a surgeon who effectively challenged the unjustified orthodoxy
that the mastectomy achieved. The book concludes by placing recent changes
in the cultural situation of the disease within the broader framework
of the social effects of the changes in the broader condition of women.
Consumer Society Reader
Edited by Juliet B. Schor and
New Press, $40 (cloth)
"Do Americans consume too much?" ask editors
Juliet Schor and Douglas Holt in the introduction to The Consumer
Society Reader. In dozens of essays about economics, the environment,
ideology, and politics, some two-dozen contributors answer their question
from every standpoint possible. The book compiles decades of academic
and popular discourse on the impacts of consumerism, from Karl Marxs
1867 essay "The Fetishim of the Commodity and Its Secret"
to contemporary authors like Betty Friedan, James Twitchell, and bell
hooks. Schor and Holt divide the volume into seven sections, each one
headlined by a prominent early criticincluding the Frankfurt Schools
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, French sociologist Jean Baudrillard,
and Thorstein Veblen (the father of the term "conspicuous consumption").
Schor and Holt are up-front about their criticisms of consumer culture.
"Contemporary American ideology holds that tastes are individualized
and disinterested.... But tastes are never innocent of social consequences,"
Holt writes in his essay, while Schor proposes a "critical politics
of consumption," which would challenge those consumption practices
that "exacerbate and reproduce class and social inequalities."
Whether or not you agree with its editors, The Consumer Society Reader
is an authoritative compilation of ideas and opinions on the consumer
Originally published in the December
2000/January 2001 issue of Boston Review