The Labor of Development: Workers and the Transformation of Capitalism in Kerala, India
Cornell University Press, $19.95 (paper)
According to the "Washington consensus," trade liberalization and privatization are elixirs for economic development. India’s state of Kerala provides striking evidence against this neoliberal dogma. Public policies in Kerala have put the well-being of its citizens first through a host of public health, education, and regulatory supports. The astonishing consequences are much noted in development circles: extremely high literacy (91 percent), long life expectancy (71 years), low infant mortality (thirteen per 1,000 live births), and high socioeconomic equality. Patrick Heller’s insightful study shows how popular movements mobilized politically, and occasionally won power through contested elections. They used this social and political power to construct markets in land, labor, and capital on terms very favorable to workers, and so to the interest of the vast majority.
Global Finance at Risk: The Case for International Regulation
John Eatwell and Lance Taylor
The New Press, $22.95 (cloth)
In an era in which global markets are supposed to have made economic regulation obsolete, a proposal for a new World Financial Authority is tacking against the wind. Nevertheless, this little book makes a strong case. Eatwell and Taylor argue that the financial crises that have periodically swept the world since the end of the Bretton Woods system–such as one the one that struck East and Southeast Asia in 1997–are not the result of misbehavior by governments, but the inevitable (though unpredictable) result of an under-regulated global financial system. What regulation currently exists is conducted by the International Monetary Fund, whose unvarying package of austerity, deregulation, and further openness seldom restores growth or stability. Indeed, it’s not clear that growth and stability are always the goal: Eatwell and Taylor suggest that the IMF’s response to the Asian crisis was intended not to stabilize the region’s economies but to "dismantle the Asian model," regardless of the human consequences.Global Finance at Risk offers a compelling proposal for a different financial architecture–a global financial regulator and lender of last resort that is better funded than the IMF but does not face the same onerous conditions on its lending. The book is silent, however, on who might build such an institution.
–J. W. Mason
A Darker Ribbon: Breast Cancer, Women, and Their Doctors in the Twentieth Century
Beacon Press, $22 (cloth), $18 (paper)
This social history of breast cancer constructs a surprising, challenging, and illuminating account of a grim subject. Writing with graceful intensity and working from a nuanced feminist appreciation of the complex relations between gender and culture, Ellen Leopold traces the intertwined medical dilemmas of understanding and treatment that cancer in general presents, with the distinctive and profound cultural dimensions peculiar to a killing, chronic disease that attacks mainly older women, involves an exceptionally "charged" part of a woman’s body, and historically has been treated by male surgeons. The book provides a coherent historical account, including two moving correspondences between patients and surgeons–one involving the creator of the radical mastectomy and the other between the author Rachel Carson and a surgeon who effectively challenged the unjustified orthodoxy that the mastectomy achieved. The book concludes by placing recent changes in the cultural situation of the disease within the broader framework of the social effects of the changes in the broader condition of women.
The Consumer Society Reader
Edited by Juliet B. Schor and Douglas Holt
New Press, $40 (cloth)
"Do Americans consume too much?" ask editors Juliet Schor and Douglas Holt in the introduction to The Consumer Society Reader. In dozens of essays about economics, the environment, ideology, and politics, some two-dozen contributors answer their question from every standpoint possible. The book compiles decades of academic and popular discourse on the impacts of consumerism, from Karl Marx’s 1867 essay "The Fetishim of the Commodity and Its Secret" to contemporary authors like Betty Friedan, James Twitchell, and bell hooks. Schor and Holt divide the volume into seven sections, each one headlined by a prominent early critic–including the Frankfurt School’s Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, French sociologist Jean Baudrillard, and Thorstein Veblen (the father of the term "conspicuous consumption"). Schor and Holt are up-front about their criticisms of consumer culture. "Contemporary American ideology holds that tastes are individualized and disinterested…. But tastes are never innocent of social consequences," Holt writes in his essay, while Schor proposes a "critical politics of consumption," which would challenge those consumption practices that "exacerbate and reproduce class and social inequalities." Whether or not you agree with its editors, The Consumer Society Reader is an authoritative compilation of ideas and opinions on the consumer society debate.