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New Book Of Interest By Benjamin R. Barber

April 11, 2007

I just saw this Washington Post review of Benjamin R. Barber‘s new book, Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole. The Post‘s reviewer, Barry Schwartz, says this about the book and Barber:

– “In Consumed, Barber argues that shopping is pretty much the only common purpose Americans have left. For two generations, consumerism and citizenship have been battling it out for America’s soul. And consumerism has won.”
– “Most of us tend to think of market capitalism as an essential contributor to liberty and democracy, both because it’s an engine of material prosperity and because it underpins freedom of choice. Barber argues persuasively that this positive relationship between capitalism and democracy did exist when capitalism was about producing goods that met human needs. But those days are long gone. Now, ‘needs’ must be created: Producers and marketers of goods and services have to convince those with money to buy them.”
– “In a never-ending effort to make consumption the centerpiece of every American’s existence, marketers have succeeded in infantilizing adults (‘kidults,’ Barber calls us). We’re increasingly governed by impulse.”
– “Barber is a distinguished political theorist who for years has been writing about the deterioration of “civil society” and what must be done to reclaim it. Many others have criticized our obsession with materialism and consumption, a theme he explored in Jihad vs. McWorld, but Barber’s aim is not to be a scold. The Reagan revolution convinced us that turning the market loose would be good economics and good politics. Barber, in contrast, argues that ‘Once upon a time, capitalism was allied with virtues that also contributed at least marginally to democracy, responsibility, and citizenship. Today it is allied with vices which – although they serve consumerism – undermine democracy, responsibility, and citizenship.'”
– “Even good liberals such as New York Times columnist and bestselling author Thomas L. Friedman seem to believe that market competition, like aspirin, can fix anything. In my opinion, Barber is right. The heart of this book — a section titled ‘The Eclipse of Citizens’ – provides chapter and verse. We adults, addicted as we are to consumption, may be too far gone to reclaim democracy. For that, we have to wait for our children to take over.”


Well, the review’s ending is a bit apocalyptic, but the book nonetheless thought provoking. . . . So many interesting books, so little time. – TL


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