After the New Economy

Doug Henwood's new book explains the real world trends behind complex economic statistics.

After the New Economy, Doug Henwood, The New Press, 2003, GBP £16.95

New Yorker Doug Henwood’s multimedia assault on American capitalism ranges from the Left Business Observer - a newsletter, website and discussion group - a weekly radio show on WBAI, the definitive expose of Wall Street (Verso, 1998), and now his new book After the New Economy.

Henwood’s high standing among radicals in America and beyond arises from his ability, not only to understand the wilder shores of high finance, but also to explain what is wrong there. Widening the focus to the economy as a whole, Henwood’s latest book is a rattling good read, as well as being a clear introduction to the complexities of economic statistics and the real world trends behind them.

Henwood makes short work of the shibboleths of the ‘New Economy’ trumpeted by Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and many in the financial press. He also takes apart the ‘post-materialist’ fantasies of George Gilder and Business Week, showing that the ‘overthrow of matter’ was prematurely celebrated. He is particularly good at going for the jugular, exposing ramshackle exploitation behind the book-selling website Amazon’s glowing front page, and neatly exposing ‘all the substitutes for profits that became so fashionable in the later 1990s - “eyeballs”, “hits” and “pageviews”.’

Henwood takes some risks himself. As a critic of Wall Street, he is well placed to enlarge his audience among the ‘anti-capitalist’ movement of recent times. But rather than joining in with the Greek chorus of woe-sayers, bemoaning the end of the world, Henwood is resolutely optimistic about new technology. More than that, he shows where the critics are wrong, exposing the anti-human ideas of the deep ecology movement and their ambition to reduce the population. Drawing out the unlovely consequences of the arguments made by greens such as David Korten and Kirkpatrick Sale, Henwood concludes ‘this is snobbery, elitism and despair, masquerading as radical critique’ (168).

Henwood’s chapter on income inequality seems the least satisfying - though the treatment of the facts is more judiciously handled than in most other approaches. (Henwood’s account of the changes in the demography of the US working class, and its impact on racial and gender inequality, is most interesting.) Perhaps this is because these issues were dealt with so well before, as in Andrew Hacker’s Money (1997). And, as Henwood points out, ‘polarisation continued well into the 1990s and beyond, but with much less political impact…. Maybe people have gotten used to it.’ The fact that inequality fails to ignite popular criticism of the powers-that-be ought to be investigated, and writers like Henwood should ask more questions when establishment bodies like the United Nations churn out ever-more alarming inequality statistics.

The chapter on globalisation is the best, with its clear explanation of the mysteries of trade and its willingness to go against the grain of accepted ideas on the left. In particular, Henwood takes care to show that contemporary investment patterns are not a repeat of what Lenin described as the super-exploitation of the third world, and that not all growth in the developing world is unwelcome. He is wise, too, on the state of the ruling elite, arguing that ‘its members are feeling a bit besieged’. If there were more minds like Henwood’s available, we might imagine the besieged elite being replaced altogether.

Buy After the New Economy from Amazon (UK) or Amazon USA

James Heartfield is the author of The ‘Death of the Subject’ Explained, Perpetuity Press, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK)); and Great Expectations: The Creative Industries in the New Economy, Design Agenda, 2000 (buy this book from Amazon (UK)). He is also coauthor of Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age, Wiley-Academy, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)). See his website

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