The Silent Takeover by Noreena Hertz

I contemplated reading Hertz’s book a few years ago but passed on it, fearing it would simply retread the same ground as so many others emerging in the wake of the “anti-globalisation” protests. In some ways, I was right, but coming to it four years after publication I found it a useful summary of many of the issues barely-fettered capitalism presents to society, and a fair-handed exploration of the strengths and weaknesses of the corporation-based society we find ourselves in.

Hertz is unabashedly a believer in capitalism, though (in the tradition of such eminent predecessors as Keynes) believes that it should be embedded in a stronger civil society/democratic framework than has been the case since the Thatcher-Reagan revolution. She details many of the ways major corporations (particularly media corporations, but also others from a wide variety of areas) have begun replacing many roles which were formerly those of government.

She points to numerous positive examples of the social contribution of corporations and of the wealthy individuals benefitting from them, but encourages the reader to reflect on the wisdom of ceding so much power to unelected bodies. While consumers retain some power due to the fact that they can set their spending priorities, the distribution of such power is uneven, disenfranchising the poor and favouring those who can shout loudest.

As Hertz clearly demonstrates, a new democratic framework will differ significantly from those of previous times, but if we are to ensure ongoing social support programs and care about long-term community development, democratic oversight is desparately needed. This is not an academic work (those looking for such from Hertz would be better off looking elsewhere) but it is a powerful summary of serious issues confronting global society.

(review submitted to amazon)

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