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Hertz, N (2001) The Silent Takeover: Global Capitalism and the Death of Democracy. William Heinnemann: London : 1-242.

Capitalist society, so we are told by authority, is inextricably linked with 'democracy', 'efficiency' and 'openness'. But rational examination of the post-WWII historical record reveals the appalling gap between the 'peaceful' intent of Western power and its ruinous effects. Victims abound - in Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia, Latin America, as well as at home in the 'rich' West - all 'beneficiaries' of a centralised state-corporate system built upon global poverty, environmental destruction and injustice. What is to be done?

Step into the breach Noreena Hertz, a Cambridge academic with business experience in Israel and Russia, warning of 'The Silent Takeover'. Politicians, she says, are now 'subordinate to the colossal economic power of transnational corporations'. No wonder 'many citizens of democratic societies feel that their governments are no longer looking out for them', so that 'many of them are increasingly looking out for themselves' by taking up ethical consumerism and street protest. Her analysis is 'a new and startling take on the way we live now'.

But, enlightening and welcome though the many examples of corporate dominance are that Hertz proffers, there is actually little that is 'new' or 'startling' here. Moreover, after spending half the book arguing convincingly that corporate power is strangling the environment and trampling upon social justice, it then beggars belief to be told that if the state cannot be relied upon to meet citizens' needs, then we should 'bypass traditional political channels and express concerns and demands directly to the bodies that can, the corporations.'

Only ten pages into this racily written book, it is clear where the author stands: 'Capitalism is clearly the best system for generating wealth, and free trade and open capital markets have brought unprecedented economic growth to most if not all of the world.' Such words would not disgrace the comment pages of The Spectator or The Telegraph.

Hertz appears constrained by an establishment-friendly frame of reference in discussing power, democracy and the global economy. Her source material, with a few welcome exceptions including Ed Herman and Robert McChesney, is hardly what one would label 'radical'. It is therefore unsurprising that a power-elite view of recent history imbues the pages: 'By the mid-1990s the Western middle classes were in financial terms doing better than ever before [doubtful - with job insecurity on the rise, even amongst the middle classes]. In the developed world at least, their material needs were well sated and they felt physically safe now that the threat of Soviet attack [sic] had been laid to rest.' As modern historians have shown with the aid of declassified state documents, the threat of Soviet attack during the Cold War was largely manufactured to serve the interests of the military-industrial establishment.

What will rile many a Red Pepper reader is the glib equation of state-corporate mass abuses of human rights and alleged 'illegitimacy' of street protest: 'Protest acts as a countervailing force to the Silent Takeover, yet because it is not fully inclusive it shares the illegitimacy of its opponent.' I'm afraid this book is - intentionally or not - a corporate wolf in activist sheep clothing. Beware.

David Cromwell

June 2001

[A version of the above appeared in the August 2001 issue of Red Pepper]

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