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The Books Just Keep Getting Worse

I thought that the last book – Phishing for Phools – that I reviewed for Barron’s is bad.  And it is.  But the book that I’m now reading to review for that same excellent publication is in a league of Bad all its own.

The book is Douglas Rushkoff’s Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus.  I’m half-way through this serving of word salad made of regurgitated 19th-century romantic fallacies about the joys of pre-industrial face-to-face economic relationships, 20th-century naiveté about the state as well as about monopoly power, and early 21st-century absurdities about the digital economy and scarcity finally conquered.

Actually, I hesitated to write the above paragraph, for Rushkoff contradicts himself with truly impressive regularity.  It’s quite the challenge to make any statement about what this book is about.  What at the top of page X is asserted to be indisputably true is, at the bottom of page X, argued to be indisputably false.  (An example: Ordinary Americans today are suffering from being idled because so many jobs have been destroyed by technology and these same Americans are cruelly overworked.)  Assertions and claims and allegations fly out at the reader fast and furiously, but with no attempt by the author to make them cohere into anything that deserves the name “argument” or “thesis.”

Were it not to inflict an injustice upon sufferers of a genuinely awful affliction, I would describe this book – or, at least, the first half of it – as if it were the typescript from an author whose fingers-on-a-keyboard suffer terribly from Tourette’s syndrome.  One spasmodic and incoherent paragraph follows another, with little to connect them and much to make them inconsistent with each other.

And perhaps not surprisingly, only a tiny fraction of these written spasms can be read, even in the most generous spirit, to make any economic sense.  Here’s an almost-randomly chosen spasm.  It’s found on page 78:

Other companies attempt to lower expenses by outsourcing core competencies.

Get that?  Acme Corp. and XYZ, Inc. attempt to lower their expenses by purchasing from other producers goods and services that Acme and XYZ each could produce themselves at lower costs.

It’s impossible to take such economically ignorant rantings seriously.


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