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'One Market Under God' by Thomas Fran

Books on Business: ‘One Market Under God’

Sunday, April 22, 2001

By the Business Librarians at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh


One Market Under God

By Thomas Fran



The growth of the stock market over the past decade is often viewed as the logical outgrowth of a new type of economy. Pundits heralded the birth of this new “democratic” economy as one based solely on the dictates of the market and immune to the business cycle.

The open marketplace has been anointed as the only place where every opinion can be heard and where truly democratic decisions are made.

Supposedly, then, the more closely all institutions -- governments, schools, social organizations, communities, etc. -- follow the example set by free market business leaders, the more democratic the world would become. This advice extends especially to other countries that could create their own unfettered, deregulated markets, fashioning incredible economic prosperity for their own people as well.

Author and social critic Thomas Frank labels this phenomenon “market populism,” and he argues that, on the contrary, the free marketplace may lead to a diminution of choice and democracy. His contention, made in cogent and informed prose, is that the business of business -- and thus of the market--is “coercion, monopoly and the destruction of the weak, not ‘choice’ or ‘service’ or universal affluence.” He describes how business leaders appropriate the rhetoric of the original populists and label anyone who dares voice an opinion contrary to market demands (for example, a call for living wages) as anti-market and therefore “against the people.”

Frank’s analysis of how the idea of elitism, and especially “liberal elitism,” became the “red-scare” threat of the ’90s is particularly insightful. He reminds us that the original populist movement wanted justice for people, not for business, and demonstrates why the boom market of the ’90s did not measure up to that standard. Frank outlines how much we have lost with the decline of the labor movement and a truly critical mass media. He probes the social myths created around the “greatest economic expansion in American history,” and shows why the truth might mean something completely different and less salutary for the people as a whole.

“One Market Under God” was written prior to the current downturn in the market; it will be interesting to see whether any of Frank’s criticisms begin to sound from other voices. In the meantime, the book makes for refreshing reading for those who suspect that, just maybe, unalloyed faith in the markets is not the answer to all the world’s problems.

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