The Anarchist in the Library

The Anarchist in the Library, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Basic Books 2004.

Siva Vaidhyanathan (see here and here) sees the central problem of the Internet and of society as a whole, as the tension between decentralization/freedom/anarchy and centralization/control/oligarchy.

The great challenge in the new century is to mediate between two divergent trends — anarchy and oligarchy. In the war between distribution and concentration of information, the issues and conflicts seem intractable. [xvii]

In the world of the Internet, at least in the years leading up to 2004 when the book was published, these poles of anarchy and oligarchy manifest themselves technologically. Anarchy is the "ideology of peer-to-peer systems" such as the file-sharing and media-sharing networks that have followed Napster; it is characterized by a fluid, decentralized architecture in which "all the ‘thinking’.. happens at the end point" and in which there is "no discernible command-and-control system" [17]. On the other side, digital rights management is the technology of oligarchy, imposing controls on what you can and cannot do with the software and media that you buy (or, increasingly, license). I don’t usually buy the technology-determines-behaviour line, but his discussion of what it means for a technology to "have an ideology" is the best I’ve read, and is well illustrated by the distinction between technologies that operate on the basis of protocols (handshakes, conventions) and those that work on the basis of controls.

When I first picked up this book (from my library) I assumed that the author was another techno-utopian and that he is firmly on the side of freedom and anarchy over control and oligarchy (as who but the most unromantic of us could not be)? Not unreasonable, given chapter titles like Hacking the Currency and The Peer-to-Peer Revolution and the Future of Music, but wrong. In fact, although his heart is with the anarchists, Siva Vaidhyanathan is best described as a librarian. Not as in somebody who works in a library, but as in someone who is a fan of libraries:

Librarians should be our heroes. The library is not just functionally important to communities all over the world; it embodies Enlightenment values in the best sense. A library is a temple devoted to the antielitist notion that knowledge should be cheap if not free — doors should be open. Supporting libraries — monetarily, spiritually, intellectually, and legally — is one of the best things we can do for the life we hope to build for the rest of the century. [Page 119]

Libraries seem anachronistic — if they did not already exist, they could not be created now (in North America anyway) — and yet they are among the most popular of institutions. People make jokes (deserved or not) about the service of the post office, the inflexibility of government, and the so on, but no one (well, apart from Seinfeld) pokes fun at libraries. Even some libertarians, who see any path laid by the state as a road to serfdom, love libraries. Our local libraries are always busy, and after a bad patch some time ago appear to be thriving with their mix of Internet access, DVD and CD rentals and, of course, loads of books. The popularity of the library surely comes from its nature as patron-focused but not commercial (no "consumers" here) and state sponsored but not monopolistic. It is populist and yet highbrow.

In the end Vaidhyanathan takes a dialectical stance and rejects both anarchy and oligarchy in favour of the library – a civic, noncommercial, open and public model. I didn’t see this coming until well into the book, which after the first couple of chapters is more a set of essays around a common topic than a sequential argument. I thought he was heading towards one more simplistic agenda ("information wants to be free" anyone?) but he pulls himself back from the brink and ends up writing [185] "The heart of my argument in this book is a call for modesty and patience" and this:

The urge to break heads, to do the bidding of oligarchy by any means necessary is intimately linked to specters of anarchy. The urge towards anarchy depends on oligarchic abuses. Each creates the conditions that allow the other to thrive. The question for us in the twenty–first century should not be choosing anarchy or oligarchy by constructing and maintaining systems that discourage both. Anarchy is a reaction, not a vision or solution that can produce the best society and the best human future.  [187]

One of the reasons he pulls back is a debate with Randy Cohen of the New York Times, which he describes with admirable honesty [63].

"The history of popular culture is a continuous struggle on the artists’ part not to get robbed… it seems to me that what MP3 [digital music] does is democratize the ability to rip off an artist," Cohen wrote to me. "And what’s particularly galling is that you not only want to do it, you want to be praised as a social progressive when you do."
He got me. That’s my schtick. By the guiding principles Cohen deployed in our peer-to-peer debate, I had no escape. He considered copyright to be an artists’ right and concern; I consider the chief player in the copyright system to be the corporation.

The artists’ struggle continues. The commercial oligarchs do whatever they can to avoid paying artists, as the Hollywood writers’ strike showed and as recent press about royalty awards not being passed on to artists makes clear. But the free-use techno-anarchists exploit artists too. Greatest Living Englishman Billy Bragg writes in the New York Times about how he advised Michael Birch, the founder of social networking site, on how to handle artistic content on the site (via Nicholas Carr). Bragg was angry that while artists contributed to the site, Michael Birch sold it to AOL for $850million and the artists got nothing. Here is part of his op-ed:

He was hoping to expand his business by hosting music and wanted my advice on how to construct an artist-centered environment where musicians could post original songs without fear of losing control over their work. Following our talks, Mr. Birch told the press that he wanted Bebo to be a site that worked for artists and held their interests first and foremost.

In our discussions, we largely ignored the elephant in the room: the issue of whether he ought to consider paying some kind of royalties to the artists. After all, wasn’t he using their music to draw members — and advertising — to his business? Social-networking sites like Bebo argue that they have no money to distribute — their value is their membership. Well, last week Michael Birch realized the value of his membership. I’m sure he’ll be rewarding those technicians and accountants who helped him achieve this success. Perhaps he should also consider the contribution of his artists.

The musicians who posted their work on are no different from investors in a start-up enterprise. Their investment is the content provided for free while the site has no liquid assets. Now that the business has reaped huge benefits, surely they deserve a dividend…

If young musicians are to have a chance of enjoying a fruitful career, then we need to establish the principle of artists’ rights throughout the Internet — and we need to do it now.

Instead of cheering for one side or the other, Vidhyanathan’s book foresees and acknowledges both these problems. And problems they are. He does not offer clear or simple solutions, but he points us thoughtfully in the right direction, and that’s a very valuable contribution. So I definitely recommend the book, even though I wish it were a bit less scattered than it is (and that it had a better index). It’s an exploration, not a recipe for the future, and has the rough edges that come with that territory, but there is a lot of food for thought in the pages.

The Anarchist in the Library, written in 2004, is already a bit outdated. Not the author’s fault of course, but it is already odd to read a book about the Internet that has no mention of Wikipedia and no index entry for Google. These recent developments have changed the nature of the Internet. Peer to peer networks are still around, but I don’t think they are the defining feature of the Internet. If we think of music we think of iTunes, not Napster; if we think of books we think of Amazon; if we think of social networks we think of Facebook and MySpace. None of these are peer-to-peer: they are centralized technologies built on the basis of controls, not protocols. Software architecture is often described as a stack, and while the low-level plumbing of the Internet remains a peer to peer protocol, the higher levels of the stack are "platforms" or client-server models of request and response. The techno-capitalist digirati have moved happily onto such platforms, and the centralization of ownership that they carry with them. In the era of utility computing, peer-to-peer networks appear to be on the wane.

There is one other place in which I think Vaidhyanathan gets it wrong. He underestimates the role of information asymmetries and transaction costs. He says that "Major record labels perform four basic tasks: production, distribution, price fixing, and gatekeeping" [48]. But there is a fifth, which is promotion. Simply putting a record on the Internet is hardly more effective than playing your music on your front lawn – the problems of finding something no one knows exists are far greater than he credits. One major function of libraries, after all, is to match readers and books ("Every reader his/her book" in one of Ranganathan’s five laws of library science — thanks John). When Vaidhyanathan tells a journalist that African musicians don’t need record companies because "The artists can do it all themselves for less than $10,000" he is naive. Billy Bragg’s friends on Bebo did the same, and it got them nowhere. Others have proclaimed this line before – for example Chris Anderson in my least favourite book talks about the band Birdmonster who eschewed labels

Label were calling with deals, but Birdmonster turned the offers down. As [lead singer Peter] Arcuni put it, “We’re not anti-label in principle, but the numbers (risk vs. reward) didn’t add up.”

A music label exists primarily to fulfill four functions: 1) talent scouting; 2) financing (the advances bands get to pay for their studio time is like seed capital invested by a venture capitalist); 3) distribution; 4) marketing.

From Birdmonster’s perspective, they didn’t need that.

Well, apparently they do now. The problem is that so much of culture is governed by asymmetric information, information cascades, and network effects. You don’t know what a book is going to be like until you buy it, so simply knowledge of the existence of a book is insufficient – you need recommendations and reliable ones at that. I’ve gone on about this in various ways here and here and here. His neglect of these forces is one of the reasons I thought he was heading down the techno-utopian path, but as I say he ends up, thankfully, rejecting the "California Ideology" [155] in favour of something less catchy, less simple, but more hopeful.

The Big Switch

The Big Switch, by Nicholas Carr, is published by W.W.Norton, January 2008. Quotes and page numbers are from an advance copy.

Unlike most technology commentators Nicholas Carr knows that if you want to predict what’s happening next, you’ve got to follow the money. And he does so very well, which makes this book (and his weblog) recommended reading for anyone interested in where  technology is taking us.

Google is everywhere in The Big Switch and the reason is simple: cost.

No corporate computing system, not even the ones operated by very large businesses, can match the efficiency, speed and flexibility of Google’s system. One analyst [Martin Reynolds of the Gartner Group: see here ] estimates that Google can carry out a computing task for one tenth of what it would cost a typical company.

That means, if you are a company and you have a computing task to be done that Google already does, you can save a bunch of money and you can now start outsource your CPU cycles just as you previously outsourced other tasks. And that means that the computing landscape will get shaken up. Not in a matter of months, but over the next decade or so. It’s amazing how quickly we get used to a landscape and many of us are now so accustomed to PC’s and the basic layout of corporate computing systems that they seem almost natural. But Carr warns us that this is going to change and, as if to confirm his claims, last week Sun Microsystems, supplier of many of the computers that make up corporate data centres, announced that by 2015 it won’t have a single data centre.  Information Technology is not sacrosanct.

Google’s cost advantage comes partly from a built-in inefficiency of corporate computing: capacity underutilization. Many applications demand their own servers, and those servers must be able to handle the peak load that the application will experience even if that peak load happens only rarely. As a result most corporate computers, most of the time, do nothing except consume electricity and produce heat. This inefficiency was unavoidable until recently, but now high-speed Internet availability makes it possible for companies that have the resources (Google and a few others) to build warehouses full of servers that look like power stations (see Google’s The Dalles centre in Oregon, below, with two football-stadium-sized buildings full of perhaps 60,000 servers). And then they can supply CPU cycles over the Internet just like electrical utilities supply electricity. The demand on Google’s CPU cycles is smoothed out, being balanced among many consumers in different timezones with different needs, and that only helps their efficiency. It’s what Carr calls utility computing.

The first half of The Big Switch is given over to convincing us that utility computing is the wave of the future, and the second half of the book explores the implications – many of them disturbing – of this switch. The good news is that both are thought-provoking and open up a lot of questions. The less good news is that to cover all this ground Carr has to skim and, at 250 pages, this short book can’t delve very deeply into any of the questions.

The argument for the switch to utility computing is made by drawing an analogy between the history of electricity supply and the history of computing. A century ago factories generated their own electricity and many of the fears that people have of outsourcing computing were faced by the nascent electrical industry. Would companies trust their lifeblood to an external source? Can they the get guarantees they need to go over to this new model? History shows that they did, and quickly. Will computing go the same way? Carr says yes.

I broadly agree (in the long run) but there are reasons to think the Big Switch may be less than complete. First, there is an intermediate solutuion that companies are already adopting, which is "virtualization software" that allows them to run many "virtual computers" on a smaller number of real computers, so making better use of the real CPU cycles. The technology is booming and the savings are huge. And while this may still be more expensive than the full-fledged utility model, to the extent that many software packages are customized for individual companies (not so much word processors and so on as the ERP systems that many companies run their business on) a utility model may not be applicable. Whether the benefits of custom applications will win out over the cheapness of commodity software is open to debate. Second, while electricity is a relatively simple thing, computing is complex. Carr only scratches the surface of what forms utility computing will take. Will companies and consumers pay bills for complete applications (the model), for storage (Amazon’s S3, for example), for virtual computers on which they can install their own applications (now also starting to be offered by Amazon), or what? And third, from the consumer side, the flip side of the unused CPU cycles efficiency argument is that we may be prepared to pay for a computer to run the latest games and then, well, the marginal cost of using those CPU cycles is very low.  In fact, they are starting to be used (Seti @home and others) by central applications – rented back (or donated back) to others. It is clear that the utility model is making ground in the consumer space (how much of our time do we spend in the browser) but the reasons are, I think, different from the electricity analogy Carr pursues.

But this is splitting hairs, because the broad trend Carr identifies is surely largely correct, even if it takes a decade or two for the switch to be made. We’ll still have a lot of computing cycles happening everywhere, but perhaps it may turn out to be true that the world really does need only five computers. And if there are limitations to the expansion of the megacomputers because of the complexity of computing as a utility, well there are other limits to growth (national ones, legislative ones) that electrical utilities have always faced that don’t constrain Google, Amazon and our other suppliers.

So that’s part one. Part two is a welcome counterweight to the techno-utopian fluff put out by some prominent commentators. Carr covers the centralization of control (how mass participation ends up with just a few people getting loads o’ cash), what he calls "the great unbundling" – the change from buying whole albums/newspapers to viewing individual stories and how that may affect production – and the darker side of the web: spam, identity theft, loss of privacy, and so on. Of these, the best chapter is on unbundling because it’s just not clear to me how or why that phenomenon will work itself out. The argument is that (to take newspapers as an example) when advertizers sell by the click and when content cannot be sold for its own sake, newspapers lose the ability to fund such expensive endeavours as investigative reporting and foreign news desks. Cross-subsidization of different parts of a newspaper, Carr argues, is the only way that quality content has managed to keep being produced, and once that model goes then so does the quality.

There’s a lot of possibile futures here, and I wish Carr’s book was twice as long so he could explore some of them more seriously. In the end, the book is a survey more than a deep investigation, but it is a survey that asks the right questions and we could use more books like this to chart, and perhaps help alter the course, of technological change and its many social impacts.

Independent Bookstores in the UK

I didn’t mean to write about things like book sales and so on, but one thing leads to another, so here I am.

The Guardian has an article about the shape of the UK book market and the surprising health of independent bookstores. Here is a graph based on numbers taken from the article (and taken, in turn, from the consumer research group Books Marketing). Click it to see it bigger.


It shows that from 2003 to 2006 the big winners are the supermarkets and the online retailers – the twin jaws of the digital vice. No surprises there.

It also shows that the big losers are the chain bookstores (Waterstones in particular) and the direct mail book clubs. Again, no surprises.

The green line is the independent bookstores.  They are still bigger (for a few years anyway) than online retailers and have actually improved their share from 15.6 to 15.9% of the market.

There are some other statistical nuggets in the article. See if you can make sense of these:

Figures vary for the growth of book sales in Britain, but each source
points to at least small but steady growth. The Publishers Association
says that 459m books were sold in the UK in 2005, slightly fewer than
in 2004, but ahead of the three previous years. Nielsen Bookscan, which
only counts books sold at retail level (not including sales to schools
for example), says that 225m books were sold last year in Britain with
a value of £1.7bn. Nielsen draws a straight line of gains from 2001
when its records show 163m books sold with a value of £1.2bn.
Waterstone’s reckons the market is growing at a more sedate 2% a year…
If not exactly thriving, the independent book store is not in as dire
straits as many fear. According to the Booksellers Association, a trade
group for retailers, the number of independents has fallen from 1,700
in 2000 to 1,400 today. But that figure now appears to have stabilised.
There are an increasing number of small publishers targeting the
"Publishers are falling over backwards to sell to supermarkets at very
large discounts," he says. "The focus on celebrity memoirs and
potential bestsellers is relentless and the proportion of book sales by
authors in the top 50 is going up and up. The middle band of authors is
finding life increasingly tough. The spread has diminished and that
trend will continue in the short term at least as competition gets more
intense. It is having a substantial impact on what is published."


Cass Sunstein is a University of Chicago Law Professor whose book, Infotopia, I got to read on a recent trip. The subtitle is How Many Minds Produce Knowledge and it’s all about mechanisms – particularly Internet-driven mechanisms – for combining the insights of many people to produce, as he says, knowledge. It’s a good, thought-provoking book and I recommend it.

Here’s something I had to struggle with: Sunstein is a big proponent of using prediction markets to make some kinds of decision, and he is very doubtful about the merits of deliberation: sticking people in a room and talking things out to come to a decision.

My first reaction is that I feel deliberation should be workable, and my first reaction to markets is suspicion – enhanced by the fact that Sunstein comes from the University of Chicago, where the very right-wing Economics and Law movement came from. I don’t know Sunstein’s politics, but it’s clear from the book that his heart is in the right place. He believes in the importance of marginalized people whose opinions and knowledge are too often overlooked, and in the contributions they can make. So is there a case for markets in the situations he’s talking about, in the aggregation of knowledge?

Let’s think about my hostility to markets.

Those of a libertarian right-wing outlook see the source of social problems as hierarchy, centralization, planning, bureaucracy, socialism, and the state. Socialists see the source of social problems as the concentration of wealth, privilege, and ownership in the hands of the few.

The dispute spills over into the realm of the mechanisms we look to as bulwarks against oppression.
Those of us on the left, believing in the ability of wealth to divide and conquer, look to collective action as protection against private ownership of property. It’s the old story – hang together or hang separately. Co-operatives, co-operation, unions, solidarity.

Those on the right see collective institutions as bearing the seeds of oppression and coercive suppression of individual liberty.  They look to individualistic mechanisms such as property rights and markets as protection. Free exchange respects individual autonomy and liberty – but those of us on the left see the potential for exploitation, the rule of money, and marginalization of those without the price of entrance into the market.

An economic way of phrasing this is that both sides see principal-agent problems as a root cause of oppression. The potential for moral hazard is there in both collective organizations and in any organization with market power: the temptation to oppress, to deceive, to lie, to mislead are all present. Failures of information (asymmetric information among others) and problems of transaction costs are ubiquitous.

In all this, it’s worth reflecting on what is central and what is secondary. What matters, after all, is liberty, equality, fraternity (and sorority as well). The questions of markets, voting, democracy, deliberation, are instrumental questions. To some extent we can separate them from the primary problem. My suspicion of and distrust of markets comes from a belief in the alienating effect and excluding effects of turning things that matter into commodities to be bought and sold – particularly in highly unequal societies.

So when it comes to using markets as a deliberation mechanism – including markets using virtual money – then my suspicions may not be relevant. Yes, the proponents of these instruments hark back to Hayek – whose politics I shy from –  and his The Use of Knowledge in Society. Does this mean I must object to the use of, say, prediction markets  to gain information? A clear-sighted view must say no.

Perhaps, at the same time, it would do me good to question the use of deliberation as a means of making decisions and pooling information. Feminists have long maintained, after all, that marginal groups get excluded from such discussions in a statistical manner, if not an absolute one.

Reading Infotopia was a great way for me to address these unasked questions because Sunstein himself presents the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of his argument. He may be a lawyer, but he’s not in court here, arguing for his client at all costs. The book has a balanced, open-minded approach that is a refreshing change from Some Other Book I’ve been reading lately. (Or maybe he knows that readers respond to indications of open-mindedness, and he’s just a more skilled proponent of his own point of view? Whatever, it works). His equivocation and insistence on making distinctions is welcome. It prompts questions in the reader, rather than diverting the reader past the problems.

So I recommend this book. It’ll make you wonder what’s happening when you are next with a group of people trying to talk your way to a decision. And it makes me want to look at some prediction market software for use at the workplace.

It does have limitations. The big one is that it’s really just a starter.  It could do with going a lot further in addressing the uses and limits of the tools he investigates. Markets, for example, seem suited only to questions that have numerical answers (price) or binary answers – but he doesn’t mention this limitation or what follows from it. He doesn’t distinguish cases where membership in a group is open from where it is closed, or compulsory participation versus voluntary. He briefly mentions a hybrid technique called Delphi, with a mixture of deliberation and voting, but only briefly. There is little about referenda, demand-revealing or otherwise, and little about other forms of voting or methods for achieving consensus in an inclusive fashion. Finally, he does not address the question of learning. Discussion, after all, is not just about decision-making but is also about learning, while markets separate the two. So the reader is left with a lot of open questions at the end of the book. But these would have turned it into a much bigger book too, and right now it’s good and short and thought provoking, which is plenty.

Sea Squirt

Best sentences of the day:

The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn’t need its brain anymore, so it eats it! (It’s rather like getting tenure.)

Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained, p. 177.

Why Globalization Works: Notes Part II

Finally finishing my notes on Martin Wolf’s book. I was not
very impressed
by the first third of the book, but the remainder is much
better, although it does have some big flaws. In fact, the book would be
a better one if Wolf had limited it to Part III (chapters 9 to 13) in which he
tackles the arguments of what used to be called the anti-globalization
movement. These chapters deal with the economic issues as Wolf sees them:
inequality, trade, the role of corporations, the role of the state and the WTO,
and finance.

So let’s deal with the good things first.

Wolf’s book is an argument against the “critics of
globalization”, or “new millennium collectivists” (henceforth the Cs of G). And
Wolf is, to be fair, faced with a problem because the movement (which hardly
seems to be one any more, unfortunately never having recovered from the massive
kick in the gut it received on 9/11, but that’s another story) is just that – a
movement. As a result it is, like most political movements, a mish-mash of
people with conflicting ideas and beliefs, united only in their opposition to
corporate-led globalization, and this makes it difficult to argue against. (Strangely,
Wolf seems to think this lack of analytic rigour is indicative of woolly
thinking on the part of everyone in that movement, rather than the unavoidable
messiness of active coalition politics.)

Wolf tackles the problem by reducing the concerns of the Cs
of G to a set of economic issues (see chapter list above) and splits each of
those into a set of separate arguments, and then tackles each one in turn. This
structure in itself is useful no matter what side you are on, as it brings some
organization to the muddle of overlapping issues that are gathered under the heading of
globalization. The end result is worth reading even if you disagree, especially
because some books on the economic end of the Cs of G have been so sloppy
(hello there Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith, whose “The Case Against the
Global Economy” is a prime example).

Wolf makes a strong case on some issues (eg, he makes a good
case that nation states still have a lot of power, despite what some claim), on
other issues he puts out some arguments and facts that make you think (about
inequality, for example) and highlights shoddy arguments (such as comparing the
sales figures of the biggest multinationals to the GNP of nations). On other issues
he is open minded enough to conclude that the picture is muddy, so for example
he acknowledges that Naomi Klein has a point about export processing zones (p
241), that Dani Rodrik has some good things to say about the process of
economic growth (p 204) and that Oxfam has some good things to say also about
the traps that export-oriented countries have fond themselves in (p 204). He
does have his prejudices though: for example, when it comes to so-called infant
industry protection you can see his distaste at such an anti-free-trade
strategy in his writing, and he is more damning of them than many
others are, without really making the case. About the
only prominent economic issue the book misses is the privatization of knowledge
happening by the extension of intellectual property under the WTO TRIPS
agreement, even though this is a major issue for many Cs of G. It’s an odd omission.

On the down side, Wolf really fails to see beyond the
strictly economic side of many concerns. He dismisses Klein’s No Logo, saying that “analytically, No Logo adds nothing to the debate about
globalization”. I disagree with him actually, but regardless, books can be
important for reasons other than analytical contributions. Upton Sinclair’s
The Jungle added nothing analytically to the debate over
working conditions in Chicago meat-packing plants, but it was the most
important and influential statement about the scandal anyway. Similarly, No Logo was important because Klein
identified and distilled into a single, thorough book, the concerns of a
heterogenous and disparate movement, and did so with brilliant timing. The book
came out a month or two after the Seattle protests, which was the first time most people realized anything was happening,
but Klein had been working on No Logo
for four years by then. She was ahead of the game, and by being so she defined
the terms of the debate. A counter-argument four years
on is beside the point. And with an economist’s blinkers, Wolf completely
ignores or dismisses as unimportant the cultural portions of Klein’s book:
the intrusion of advertising and commercialism into all aspects of life, the
erosion of public spaces (physical and otherwise), and so on.

Child labour and sweatshop labour are other issues where
Wolf does not see a  problem. Wolf can see only one question of importance: is
the wage paid by MNCs higher than that people would receive in their absence?
If it is higher, then MNCs are to be applauded rather than derided. But there
is another side to the story and it is to do with responsibility, proximity and
culpability. If oppression is taking place on the other side of the world and
has nothing to do with us, then there is little point to being angry. But if
our neighbours become involved in oppression, then there is a chance that we can do something
about it. The fact we can influence them makes action worthwhile even in the case that our neighbours’ oppression
is slightly milder than the original. This seems an elementary ethical
point, but Wolf and other economists (Paul Krugman for one) just don’t get it, instead dismissing this as
some kind of moral queasiness rather than the practical concern that it is. Is this a result of his trade as a commentator or a cause of it? I don’t know, but Wolf seems to have little idea of how social movements work or why they arise.

But despite that, most of us could usefully read more books that we disagree
with, and this is a useful book for the anti-globalizer to read. It is not what
its fans claim (“a devastating intellectual critique”) but it is a thorough and
well-informed (comments on Naomi Klein and other occasional lapses aside) look at the economic issues. Just skip Chapters 1 to 8.