Richard Morgan‘s Market Forces is a wonderfully nasty near-future science fiction novel about capitalism and globalization. I should say that the book is ostensibly science fiction, for the future world it presents is not all that much of an extrapolation from “actually existing” capitalism today. The main character, Chris Faulkner, is a London yuppie who’s trying to make his mark in the hottest field in global finance: Conflict Investment. This means investing in civil wars and rebellions in Third World countries. You provide your favored combatants with advanced weaponry and communications, and logistical support; in return, if the side you are backing wins, you get extravagant profits in the form of a piece of all the action (whether drug smuggling, graft and taxes, or low-paid factory labor in “enterprise zones”). The stockholders in the West get richer and richer; while the “developing” countries remain permanently chaotic and underdeveloped, with enough death and dislocation to ensure that they will never be a political threat. This is what happens when foreign policy is fully privatized along with everything else. Maybe Bush’s problem in Iraq came from the fact that he didn’t turn the whole thing (instead of just parts of it) over to Halliburton.
In the world of Market Forces, the ethos of ruthless competition rules at home as well as abroad. Corporate executives, of course, are pretty much above the law. When companies are fighting for a contract, or when executives within the same company are fighting for a promotion, the issue is resolved by road-rage duels to the death. The business class drives heavily-armored BMWs and Saabs, and they prove their competitive mettle by driving their opponents off the road in spectacular crashes. Whoever wins — i.e. survives — has thereby proven that he has more determination and drive, more of a ruthless will to succeed, than his late opponents. He gets the promotion, and becomes a celebrity as well. These duels are popular sporting events for the rest of the populace, who are otherwise relegated to living in slums cordoned off by the police from where the well-to-do live.
Emotionally, the novel lures you into sympathy with Chris Faulkner, even as he becomes more and more of a bastard as the book proceeds. At the start, he seems to have half a conscience; by the end, the only thing that redeems his murderous rage and sociopathic attitudes is that his cynicism (unlike that of his “colleagues”) shades into self-hatred and nihilistic fury as well. This almost seems the only plausible attitude to take, in a world where corporate execs basically have license to kill poor people at will, while reformers and leftists are little more than impotent hand-wringers. Morgan dedicates the book to “all those, globally, whose lives have been wrecked or snuffed out by the Great Neoliberal Dream and Slash-and-Burn Globalization”; and he provides a reading list at the end that includes Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, and John Pilger; but he doesn’t hold out much hope for anything besides the worst (and in this age of Bush and Blair, who can blame him?).
There are lots of great passages in the book, but I’ll end by quoting just one of my favorites. It’s when one of the senior partners at Chris’ firm explains matters to the press: “A practising free-market economist has blood on his hands,or he isn’t doing his job properly. It comes with the market, and the decisions it demands. Hard decisions, decisions of life and death. We have to make these decisions, and we have to get them right…” Dick Cheney couldn’t put it any better.