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The Undeclared War: Class Conflict in the Age of Cyber Capitalism

by James Laxer

Ten years after the collapse of communism, at a time of apparent economic resurgence, do we still need to talk about a struggle between the classes? In The Undeclared War, James Laxer forcefully makes the case that we do. He skillfully synthesizes economics, history, and current events to show that social and economic inequalities have steadily deepened in the last decade. As he points out in one revealing statistic, while income for most people in Western countries has stagnated or declined, the three richest people in the U.S. (Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and John Walton) have amassed financial assets worth as much as the assets of the poorest 100 million Americans.

But is Laxer right to argue that such breathtaking inequality is the result of a capitalist class exploiting the middle and working classes? At the risk of alienating general readers, is he simply recycling rigid Marxist doctrine? In fact, Laxer is far from a fire-breathing revolutionary and he largely steers clear of dogma. Instead, he relies on nuanced arguments and a powerful array of statistics to explain in an accessible, journalistic style how class divisions evolved in the West, how inequalities were temporarily reduced after the Second World War, and how, in the age of globalization and “cyber capitalism,” a small, exclusive segment of the populace has reshaped the economy in ways that have helped the rich and hurt the poor. Laxer’s class-oriented analysis obviously won’t appeal to readers on the political right. But whatever one’s abstract views, it’s hard to argue with his compelling and detailed account of how today’s economy fails to serve the average citizen in such concrete matters as wages, job opportunities, and job security.

The book would be even better if Laxer’s policy recommendations – which include higher wealth taxes and a tax on foreign-exchange transactions – weren’t simply tacked on in the last three pages. And Laxer – a York University political scientist and former research director for the federal NDP – rarely confronts the right’s strongest arguments about the efficiencies of the marketplace. But even if he doesn’t do enough to answer the best conservative arguments, he does show that conservatives themselves have a lot to answer for.