James K. Galbraith’s THE PREDATOR STATE: HOW CONSERVATIVES ABANDONED THE FREE MARKET AND WHY LIBERALS SHOULD TOO is a revealing look at contemporary politics through the lens of a noted economist. Galbraith’s main contention is that government, rather than easing the way of those it governs, has become a severe impediment instead due to the way it deals with the economy (or doesn’t). The politicians who’ve “given over” many of their duties to lobbyists also are excoriated by Galbraith at great length and detail, which is the main reason Galbraith considers our current system to be one of predation rather than actually being a helpful, consistent government.
Galbraith explains the problem on page 147:
Predation is the enemy of honest and independent and especially of sustainable business, of businesses that simply want to sell to the public and make a decent living over the long run. In a world where the winners are all connected, it is not only the prey (who by and large carry little political weight) who lose out. It is everyone who has not licked the appropriate boots.“
Galbraith’s strongest points are about lobbying, and lobbyists, and in specific are about the government of George W. Bush and how many things that had previously been highly regulated became unregulated due to the influx of corporate privilege and corporate lobbyists who became part of the government in order to subvert it. Those who would rather profit from the government than doing the hard work of governance are the ones Galbraith has the least use for, and it shows.
But mostly, Galbraith talks about standards and why we need them, and how running deficits (whether trade or monetary) isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Now, is THE PREDATOR STATE an interesting, complex, multi-faceted and multifarious work of non-fiction? Absolutely. But some of it is designed to make you upset, especially considering the main theme of the book is that too many predators have eased their way into government in order to make money in the short run, the long run be hanged. (We’ve seen that recently in the 2007-8 stock market collapse, where the Wall Street bigwigs made out like bandits while everyone else suffered.)
As Galbraith puts it, again from page 147:
In the corporate republic that presides over the Predator State, nothing is done for the common good. Indeed, the men in charge do not recognize that public purposes exist. For this reason, the concept of competence has no relevance: to be incompetent, you must at least be trying. But the men in charge are not trying: they have friends, and enemies, and as for the rest — we are prey.“
These words are incendiary, and are meant to be; I quote them to give you fair warning that at least some of this book will make you boiling mad (perhaps not the same parts for everyone, as Galbraith insults most facets of the political economy equally).
That being said, I’d recommend THE PREDATOR STATE as a blistering exposé of what’s wrong with politics, and most importantly, what’s wrong with our economy on the conceptual level to anyone who’s looking for answers as to why, exactly, our current system seems to have failed us so abysmally.
— Reviewed by Barb