Well, guess what? This book isn't going to get us past capitalism, but it sure leads the reader through many of the issues along the way in an accessible manner. Kaufman, who teaches philosophy at a California community college, demonstrates that it is possible to write about capitalism for ordinary people without giving the impression that to do so we have to learn a bunch of jargon and probably also stop loving our iPhones.
Here's how she defines her subject:
Since capitalism is the ocean in which we swim, it can be hard to see. But we can work on seeing more easily.
Repeatedly Kaufman engages with the history of attempts to throw off capitalism. Marx defined the enemy; 19th and early 20th century European struggles led most anti-capitalists to think the answer was Revolution (capital R!), a quick overthrow of all the oppressive structures of private ownership and the state that the owners used to defend their power. Actual experience with Revolutions has not been happy. Small, disciplined party organizations that are good for carrying out a coup have usually proved unable to transition to any form of broad consensual politics, especially as capitalists routinely fight back. Those socialist regimes that seek to replace private ownership and markets with universal central planning for the greater good create a centralized power that precludes democratic participation.
But bad experiences with replacements for capitalism can't let those of us who hope for something better off the hook. Kaufman has many thought provoking observations to share:
General recognition of rising economic inequality leading to worldwide plutocracy seems to be growing by leaps and bounds; Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century rides atop the Amazon best seller list. Meanwhile, capitalism is visibly blocking any useful response to the existential threat of global warming. Kaufman offers insights both hopeful and helpful as we struggle with the challenges of the times.