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Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!
Book Review by Caroline Clark, December 2009
Ralph Nader, Seven Stories Press, £17.99
Having started with the idea that a book called Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! couldn't possibly be anything but ironic, this 736-page book became practically insufferable once I realised that Ralph Nader was presenting this as a serious idea.
In fact he calls it a "practical utopia" rather than a novel, perhaps because it is utterly devoid of any literary merit. It is based on the idea that a group of retired super-rich individuals feel so passionately about the injustice they see that they decide to get together and change society.
The book essentially describes the actions of this group over a year or so in excruciating detail, with no attempt at an interesting storyline, character development or thoughtful prose.
As well as being poorly written, the whole concept of the book is dubious, as Nader fails to convince us of why a group of the super-rich would have any reason to change a society that made them as well off as they are. He shows little understanding of the mechanisms of competition under capitalism, trying to make it seem plausible that US companies would choose to offer workers a better wage rather than squeezing out every possible bit of profit.
Not only is Nader very patronising in suggesting that real change can only come about if billionaires spur the clueless unorganised masses into action, it is unbelievable.
One of the few truths that come out of the book is how the society that would ultimately result from Nader's "practical utopia" is littered with contradictions - you can't generate an equal society by using unjust means.
Just taking the example of sexism - only one of the group of super-rich is a woman. On top of this, one of the group's stunts is a "Sun God" extravaganza to promote solar energy, with the idea of "maximum exposure of hundreds of beautiful young women" with "male solar engineers, architects and physicists to be their consorts" - the "Beauties and the Brains".
Another example is their attempt to rein in executives' salaries. When the leader of the group sets the example by reducing his annual salary to "only" $350,000, one really sees how merely reforming the current system can't bring about real equality.
Ultimately Nader tackles a lot of the right issues, for example a living wage, access to healthcare and renewable energy. But, perhaps unintentionally, he demonstrates the necessity of challenging global capitalism and the inadequacy of relying on the benevolence of the rich.
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