On the Edge: Living with global capitalism – edited by Will Hutton and Anthony Giddens

On the Edge is a collection of essays on the subject of globalization. It takes its title from a chapter written by Vandana Shiva which makes the ecological case for controlling global capitalism with characteristic power.

The book opens with a choreographed conversation between editors Will Hutton and Anthony Giddens. Hutton is ex-editor of the UK Observer newspaper and Giddens is Director of the London School of Economics and guru of the Third Way in politics. It’s an Old Boy act along the lines: ‘I really have to disagree with you here or there but basically we are wearing the same tie. I (AG) am an optimist about global markets and I (WH) am modern left, meaning I’m rather pessimistic about capitalism, which needs constraint.’

But this is unfair of me because within the awful genre the dialogue is stimulating. You find yourself agreeing with one and then the other. They certainly address the title of the book. Both know we are sitting On the Edge. The question they don’t answer is On the Edge of What?

Penny Toynbee has a telling and amusing chapter likening the spread of American culture to a sickening pink ooze spreading across the world turning it into something homogeneously horrible. She then partially retracts: after all, she writes, why shouldn’t a Taliban youth have a Texaco baseball cap?

Soros on Soros is a hoot! In 1998 he wrote a book along the lines it’s all over chaps. Sales of his book ‘sored’ (sic)! Now he writes: ‘Sory (sic) I got it wrong – it’s now going to be OK!’ No doubt this latest prediction will also make him loads of money.

Ulrich Beck, a German, starts by announcing he has 15 points to make. I decided to skip this until I thought, hold on a moment, this makes a great deal of sense. For example, he sees the hugely enhanced personal freedom coming from globalization enabling us (women particularly) to write our own biographies if we dare to do so. This is causing us huge anxiety and social discontinuity.

Several authors touch on the developing role for civil society organizations. As you would expect, they agree there is little doubt about the incredible power the new technology gives to organized global citizens – for good or bad.

Yes, I recommend the book. But buy it before, like Soros’s latest, it’s proved by actual events to be out of date, which may be soon I suspect. If a modern focus-group-driven government in just one country, the UK, cannot see looming a petrol crisis of such magnitude that within five days there was no petrol available anywhere and basic food supplies were consequently at risk, what chance is there for prognostication on this vast scale?

Michael Brophy is Chief Executive of Charities Aid Foundation.

On the Edge: Living with global capitalism
edited by Will Hutton and Anthony Giddens 
Jonathan Cape  £16.99

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