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Book review


This is not a feel-good book. Georges Corm (GC) is an 'old-fashioned' economist who has spent a great amount of time working as a consultant. He also did some teaching and served as a minister of Finance in his native Lebanon. While drawing on these experiences, the argument in this book is not a 'technical' one; it is readable and aims at taking stock of the neoliberal turn and the shortcomings of its opponents.


The bulk of the book deals with the neoliberal hegemony both in economics as a science and economic thought as a practice of fashioning the minds of students, politicians, and the public at large. GC takes issue with the neoliberals evacuating large swaths of economic theory and its actual meaning ('based on the observation of historical reality the evolution of production systems': 112) in the process of reducing economics to a tool establishing all sorts of statistics and indexes without bothering about the reliability and the relevance of the data. When it comes to the reasons of this neoliberal success story, GC refers to the so-called Nobel prize (he actually states that it doesn't matter if it's a real prize as long as the economists and the public think it is) which, since its inception in 1968, was attributed mainly to 'mathematical economists' hailing from what people used to refer to as the first world. GC rightly reminds us that this hegemony, too, has material underpinnings: not only are the winners put in the spotlight, they also get a substantial amount of money (which enables them to hire staff) and become role-models for the profession. In this context, mention should be made of the control of publishing media and the proliferation not only of doctoral degrees, but also of institutions churning out MBAs and other subscribers of salmon-coloured newspapers media. Here, Corm provides some impressive facts, e.g. the  threefold growth of such degrees delivered in France between 1985 and 2005 and the total output of some 4 million degree holders in the US over the past third of a century – to name a few. Add to this the territorial coverage of these schools both as regards their intake and their presence in an ever-growing number of countries, with networks crossing national boundaries and enhancing student mobility, plus the fact that they are as expensive as they are financially rewarding for the degree-holders, and you'll get an idea of what GC refers to when he speaks of an international elite governing the world according to the neoliberal canon and capable, if need be, of hyping fake discussions such as the call for restraining trader bonuses and of framing debates e.g. about poverty in order to water down proposals as they see fit. This elite is in charge of the main institutions fashioning economic governance and holds important offices in many organizations and governments, too.

Corm's agenda is one of change, however. Fully aware of the fact that the alternative he favours faces an uphill task, he invokes religious – both Christian and Muslim – traditions of equity and (almost) forgotten approaches and thinkers in the vein of the Club of Rome, Gabriel Tarde, Ivan Ilich and Ernst F. Schumacher. The (early) Jean Baudrillard is considered to have written 'the best treatise of the political economy of the globalised modernity' (86): in addition to showing how consumption became an process of consuming objects as signs without other ends than the act of  consuming (more), Baudrillard is also credited with substantial insights into the fragmentation of the social fabric that leads, among others, to the fading away of business ethics and of a shared notion of justice as well as the loss of meaning of the notion of 'public good'.

It goes without saying that GC is aware of the fact that the oblivion into which these authors have fallen is but the flip side of the coin stamped neoliberal hegemony. Before looking for contemporary signs of hope, he briefly describes the developments of the decades following the 70s, with the IMF taking center stage during the debt crisis of the 80s, the Washington Consensus, and the integration of both East and Central Europe and the 'Asian tigers' into the globalized economy. With 'the Left' (especially marxism, but also social democracy) being discarded as actors of an alternative and trade unions hardly (if ever) mentioned, it is hardly surprising that the last chapter of the book, meant to gain some insights into future developments, is not very optimistic, and not much is said about the 'contre-pouvoirs' mentioned in the title. Despite the disrepute into which the globalised power has fallen, the winds of change are unlikely to blow in the short term, GC feels. To the contrary, we may have to expect questions related to security and identity to rise in prominence, thus blurring the perception of e.g. the crisis and the e.g. unemployment in both center and periphery.

Corms book is a valuable contribution to some current debates and a valuable reminder of intellectual traditions that have gone missing, and his being based in the periphery definitely widens its scope. However, the book does not chart unknown waters, and some of the main concepts remain rather vague and/or shifting. This is particularly true as regards the 'powers that be'; GC uses different expressions and describes the 'globalised power' as both 'highly hierarchic relations, with the heads of state of the seven major powers in the world at their top' and as a 'network' (p. 177).

Georges Corm, Le nouveau gouvernement du monde. Idéologies, structures, contre-pouvoirs,

Paris 2010 (La Découverte) 299 p., 19€




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