28 June 2015

The New Prophets of Capital

Steve Jobs painted portrait _DDC7953

People who work for a living face a stark outlook. Due to the acceleration of employment practices such as subcontracting and temporary employment, as well as persistently high unemployment, it has become incredibly difficult for workers to organize and improve their conditions. Simply finding decent work can be incredibly difficult as restructuring of the global economy has created dynamics limiting growth in manufacturing in favor of service jobs. When job growth does occur, it often produces the worst kinds of jobs.

Despite it all, entrepreneurial figures tout disruption—often simply meaning techniques for further eroding the stability and remuneration of employment—and find a rapt audience. Self-help promoters encourage the distraught to take full responsibility for their problems. Advocates of “ethical” consumption tout the environmental and social benefits of buying the right products. How is it that so many buy into narratives that gloss over or even celebrate the worsening of conditions for the great majority? To put it bluntly, why aren’t there riots?

The New Prophets of Capital by Nicole Aschoff offers one way to approach this question by examining the popularity and influence of four “prophets” of the neoliberal capitalist system. Drawing on Weber, Aschoff describes all these prophets as offering a way to live a better life. Their persuasiveness is based in their own ability to accumulate fortunes, but they don’t merely provide a set of rules to live by, they tell a story, a way of making sense of a confusing and hazardous world. Setting apart their stories from those told in days of yore is their ability to find solutions to the problems of the day, such as economic precariousness, intense competition, and brutal inequality, within the capitalist, free market system itself. Could capitalism be the source of and the solution to all of life’s problems?