New Prophets of Capital

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* Book: The New Prophets of Capital. By Nicole Aschoff. Verso, 2015

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“The New Prophets of Capital” by Nicole Aschoff is a powerful socialist critique of ‘philanthrocapitalism'. Ms. Aschoff is a well-respected lecturer in sociology at Boston University and an editor at Jacobin magazine. This succinct, well-crafted and highly accessible book will interest everyone concerned about attaining real (versus illusory) social progress in our time.

Ms. Aschoff writes individual essays on today’s leading philanthrocapitalists including Sheryl Sandberg, John Mackey, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates. In each essay, Ms. Aschoff fairly describes how these powerful people propose to use their wealth and power to make the world a better place. To be sure, the goals are laudable even if the thinking is seriously flawed.

Sandberg believes that women who attain corporate leadership positions will naturally choose to make the workplace better for women. Mackey thinks that ‘conscious capitalism’ is environmentally sustainable. Winfrey seeks to empower women as individuals; and Gates wants to bring the purported benefits of free markets to deliver improved health care and education services to the world’s poor.

The problem of course lies with the philanthrocapitalist’s errant framing of these issues as problems that must be solved by capitalism. To begin, Ms. Aschoff cites the example of Marissa Meyer to explain that female CEOs are no less inclined than male CEOs to cut worker benefits when corporate profits are put under pressure. Ms. Aschoff reminds us that the profit motive makes capitalism inherently hostile to the planet; even when intense retail competition has forced some of Mackey's Whole Foods workers to subsist below a living wage. Ms. Aschoff insists that Winfrey’s therapeutic message of individual empowerment cannot substitute for a job market that offers little opportunity and even less satisfaction to workers. Finally, Ms. Aschoff critiques Gates for scapegoating public education when the achievement gap can be best explained by income inequality (and thus cannot be solved by pitting teachers against each other in ruinous competition).

Ms. Aschoff suspects that philanthrocapitalists have garnered attention because we live in problematic times. However, Ms. Aschoff’s impeccable research, analysis and reasoning suggest that we cannot surrender our democracy to the ideological whims of the one percent. Instead, the author encourages us to struggle for a system that might better serve the needs of everyday people; our demands might reasonably include free higher education, single-payer healthcare and a minimum basic income. No doubt we have a world to gain when, with the aid of Ms. Aschoff's writing, we can debunk the false promises of philanthrocapitalism and struggle for real justice." ([2])