Consumptionomics by Chandran Nair

This interesting text is an attempt to learn ideological lessons from historic events. Firstly, it is a response to the international economic crisis. Secondly, it is a celebration of Asian economic success. Thirdly, it is an effort to address the growing environmental problems that threaten the long-term future of capitalist development. Fourthly, it is an attack on the ideal of liberal democracies with small states.

The basic problem is that it falls into the trap of seeing East and West as distinct political and economic blocs. It underestimates the complicity between different governments. It exaggerates the political and economic disparities between East and West. It arguably neglects the conflicts and tensions within the ill-defined blocs, while basically ignoring much of the world. As a result of the gaps, it does not perceive that there is still the potential for progress at many different levels of governance.

It seems to partly accept that the realities of the West and the East fit with the ideal types put about by their cheerleaders. While it is rightly critical of the lack of sustainability of the American economic system, it downplays the potential for reform within the country. Similarly, the political difficulties of Myanmar, North Korea and Thailand get scant attention. The complexities of the international economy are not captured by a text which is lacking in comprehensive analysis. In short, the optimistic take on the environmental future of the East is responsible for a pessimism about other possibilities.

Nevertheless, the book makes many telling points about the need for change. The scepticism about the power of the market to come up with solutions to environmental dilemmas is refreshing. The enthusiasm about progress in Japan, China and South Korea makes for a stirring conclusion. And it is hard not to agree that people need:

“a constrained form of capitalism.”

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