The Rise of Market Populism: America's New Secular Religion

| October 26, 2000

The Rise of Market Populism: America's New Secular Religion
Are you ready to define the 90's? 'It was an era of many and spectacular avant-gardes, of loud and highly visible youth cultures, of emphatic multiculturalism, of extreme sports, extreme diets and extreme investing,' writes cultural critic Thomas Frank in The Nation. But the real story over the last decade, he argues, was how Americans quietly settled into what some call the 'golden straitjacket' of faith in the free-market.

According to Frank, this faith lies at the core of the 'new economy.' It also mirrors a widely held belief that free markets are not only fair, but a more democratic force than elected governments. The result has been the rise of a 'market populism' driven by 'supply and demand, poll and focus group, superstore and Internet.'

'By their very nature markets confer democratic legitimacy,' he continues. Markets bring down the pompous and the snooty and give us what we want. Many depict the market as a permanent social revolution in which 'daring entrepreneurs are endlessly toppling fat cats and picking off millions of lazy rich kids.' Not so, argues Frank, who sees market populism as the most blatant apology for economic inequality since social Darwinism.-- Amanda Luker
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