Crack-Up Capitalism: Market Radicals and the Dream of a World Without Democracy by Quinn Slobodian - review by Christopher Snowdon

Christopher Snowdon

These Dark Satanic Freeports

Crack-Up Capitalism: Market Radicals and the Dream of a World Without Democracy


Allen Lane 352pp £25

A capitalist dictatorship is no different from a socialist dictatorship, except that its people are generally richer. If General Pinochet had been a Marxist, he would have been just another South American dictator. His regime in Chile stands out because capitalist dictatorships are unusual. Political freedom usually goes hand in hand with economic freedom.

But not always. The rulers of Hong Kong have never thrown people out of helicopters, but they have embraced the market without embracing democracy. According to Quinn Slobodian, this could be the way of the future. He argues in his new book that the super-rich and free-market radicals are carving out their own zones of undemocratic hyper-capitalism beyond the reach of the traditional nation-state and leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

Slobodian gives a plausible explanation of why some libertarians might want to do this. They might agree with the Churchillian view that democracy is the least bad system of political governance while at the same time sharing John Stuart Mill’s concerns about the tyranny of the majority and wanting to find ‘shackles for the state’, as Slobodian puts it. Their fear is that the state will get ever larger as everyone tries to live off everybody else. Government debt will become unsustainable as politicians offer voters jam today. Freedom will be gradually curtailed and economic growth suffocated as governments capitulate to special interest groups. If you regard this as the road to perdition and think there is nothing you can do to stop it, you might be tempted to up sticks and start your own society some place far away.

It should be said, though Slobodian does not do so, that such dreams are not confined to the libertarian fringe. There is a long history of political radicals and religious sects living off grid, buying land and creating communes. If a group of like-minded people wants to start their own

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