There’s nothing like an economic crash to create a market for financially themed books that are both analytical (focusing on how and why the crash happened in the first place) and prescriptive (suggesting ways out of the morass). Adding his voice to the mix is long-time social critic James Laxer, a prolific author and economist whose credentials should make his take on the subject worth listening to. Unfortunately, what Laxer promises in Beyond the Bubble – a clarion call for what he deems new and “aspirational” ways of thinking – turns out to be a tired and, some might say, complacent set of uninspired solutions that are unlikely to achieve any real reform.
Laxer spends the bulk of the book exploring the history of capitalism’s great cock-ups, from early economic crashes brought on by unrestrained speculation in 1700s Britain right up to the dot-com and mortgage meltdowns that frame the contemporary American economic landscape. He also explores how Canadian dependence on foreign empires (Britain, the U.S.) has resulted in an economy that is seriously underdeveloped and has left us with a limited number of economic policy options. Such failures, Laxer points out, are inevitable in a system that favours greed over the social welfare of the community. While this is helpful information for the uninitiated, it has been covered elsewhere, and with more panache, by other Canadian authors (notably Linda McQuaig and Naomi Klein).
Those willing to wade through this history lesson in the hopes of finding some workable solutions at the end will be disappointed. At a time when there are scores of exciting economic alternatives to the global capitalist rot that has cyclically plagued us for centuries – from the burgeoning mixed economies of Latin America to more localized experiments in community building that include urban agriculture, environmentally friendly transportation systems, microfinance, and barter systems – Laxer’s big finish is very much rooted in the past. Any time the government bails out a major sector, he argues, the public should get shares in it, and we have to put the interests of labour before capital.
These are not new ideas, and it is unclear how tinkering with a thoroughly broken system will inspire people, much less reform the unequal power structures that continue to condemn so many to lives of misery.