A confused critique of capitalism

October 11, 2008

Rogue Economics: Capitalism's New Reality

By Loretta Napoleoni

Allen & Unwin, 2008

292 pages, $29.95 (pb)

I was attracted to this book after hearing Loretta Napoleoni on ABC radio on June 2. In a short, punchy talk she made the most astonishing attacks on modern capitalism.

There is "almost a perfect correlation [linking] the spreading of democracy and the rising of slavery," she said. As the number of "democratic countries" increases, so does the global pool of slaves. She stated that today the price of a slave is a fraction of what was during the Roman Empire!

Supermarket shelves of are "full of products brought to us by slaves," she said. Three quarters of the fish we eat "has been fished illegally and the housing market is infested with money launderers".

In just 600 words she slammed the new global order and pointed to "Chinese counterfeiters, Russian oligarchs, internet porno-businessmen, Bulgarian mafia, urban gangs and politicians turned great illusionists".

I had just finished researching and writing an article for Green Left Weekly on the rise of counterfeiting globally and here was someone hammering out many of the facts I had ferreted out of dark corners.

I avidly looked forward to the book that would flesh out her short statement. I was bitterly disappointed.

Napoleoni's writing is most certainly anti-capitalist, or rather it is staunchly opposed to the bad effects of capitalism. But she is like a rudderless rocket, firing off in any direction.

The book certainly opens with a punch. She opens up the reality of the trade in women from Eastern Europe into the brothels of Western Europe and Israel. She speaks of the "Arizona Market" in northwestern Serbia, which is a modern slave market in which these women are put on the auction block.

This is gut-wrenching reading but her inadequate writing undercuts it. For instance: she claims that 1 million Israelis visit a prostitute every month, footnoting a book called Natashas as the source.

However, there are only around 2 million Israeli men between the ages of 15 and 65. Fifty percent of the sexually active Israeli male population use prostitutes every month? Without further backup the claim seems unrealistic.

Also, at the conclusion of the chapter (titled "Sleeping with the enemy") it remains unclear if she is condemning sex slavery or the fact that Israeli criminals collude with Arab criminals to conduct it.

Other disturbing questions arise as she starts to try to explain the capitalist evolution of China. Denying any Marxist analysis, she tries to stretch Hannah Arendt's thinking on the dangers of subjugating politics to economics.

This leads her to conclusions that reek of racism: Chinese civilisation "constantly blurs the boundaries between what Western culture defines as legal and illegal".

She clearly has never heard of WA Inc or Queensland's Bjelke-Petersen government or the British "Opium Wars" against China!

She has heard of the Venezuelan revolution, however. It is driven by gangsters forming rap bands to provide "the mythical terrain upon which Chavez's popularism appeals to the instinctive tribalism of his compatriots". All this is to "establish a state apparatus capable of fulfilling the false ideals of the Bolivarian revolution".

Put bluntly: this is a weird book. Its most interesting points are summarised in her talk on Radio National's Perspective program. Unfortunately, she tried to extend out the little she knows to nearly 300 pages.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.