cover image The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism

The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism

Martin Wolf. Penguin Press, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2421-6

The alliance between democracy and free market capitalism is breaking down, thus opening the door to antidemocratic populism, according to this scattershot manifesto. Financial Times associate editor Wolf (The Shifts and the Shocks) surveys the growth of populist, xenophobic, and illiberal politics in the West, blaming these developments on upheavals of globalization, rising inequality, and economic insecurity, and a corrupt “rentier capitalism” rigged for corporate elites who focus on tax avoidance and inflating share prices instead of productive investment. Exploiting these stresses is a disingenuous right-wing “pluto-populism” that woos working-class voters abandoned by the “Brahmin Left,” which fixates on identity politics and challenging traditional values. Wolf’s analysis of political economy is often trenchant and packed with facts and figures that he distills into pithy prose. (“When frightened and insecure, humans go angrily tribal.”) He also discusses a grab bag of policy options for shoring up and reconciling democracy and capitalism, from strengthening welfare benefits and instituting a land tax to establishing time-limited “citizen juries,” chosen by lottery, to look into “specific contentious issues.” Elsewhere, Wolf’s diagnoses and solutions run counter to his calls for moderation, as when he compares the Republican Party’s obedience to Trump to the Nazis’ “Führerprinzip” and suggests banning anonymous commenting online. This mixed-bag zigzags between astute and overwrought. (Feb.)