Book Review of People Before Profit, by Charles Derber

As economists and the business world rave about the profit potentials of globalization, activists and scholars rage over its hidden agenda. Professor of Sociology at Boston College and author Charles Derber assembles a visionary argument for a new globalization within his book People Before Profit (Picador, 2003). Dispelling the common belief that globalization is a force that shapes our lives, he shows a history where it is shaped by a powerful few at the expense of many. In a clear, intelligent, yet impassioned voice, Derber exposes the dynamics between imperialism, whether economic, military or cultural, poverty, terrorism and democracy. All converging together to create the globalization changing our lives, but seemingly out of reach to much of the world.

A large part of Derber’s work focuses on redefining globalization by infusing it with true democracy in all aspects of our lives. He is part of a growing choir that sees a society operating from localized democratic ideals as the only future. In a phrase, it is People Power that this enlightened choir sings of, including scholars such as John Cavanagh, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Vandana Shiva, Lori Wallach and many other scholars. Not to mention the thousands of grassroots protestors Derber lionizes in their effort to rattle the powers of world bodies like the World Trade Organization, International Monterey Fund and World Bank. Derber is hardly the detached academic who watches the world through statistics from Ivory towers. His presence is on the ground with activists and through travels to Bangladesh to hear the plight of workers in sweatshops.

Through Derber’s expansive view of how corporations shape economic policy, we see how world institutions created as protection are actually hurting those who reach out. Pour countries are locked in debt with industrialized superpowers that manipulate trade to keep resources cheaply available. People who are workers, farmers, activists and community leaders have been fighting this battle for equality in trade for generations. It takes intellectuals like Derber to penetrate the minds of economists and politicians, brining substance to the struggle. Though the voice within People Before Profit never attempts to leap over the heads of a wide potential readership. No life has gone untouched in the world Derber describes and with ease we can see how we fit into globalization’s puzzle. Besides an accessible read, Derber puts forth a plan for what is becoming the challenge of this century. The wars on terror and poverty are being waged, but it becomes evident under his insight that they are misdirected. The true struggle is within the self and the choices of the individual become the battleground. As much as Derber paints a dark picture, it is wrapped in a silver lining of personal solutions. That is really all that democratic possibilities rely on, that we make empowered choices and if enough of us want what is good, it manifests. With 13 pages at the end of the book packed full of individual solutions to take on, we are given a reality with hope. Derber doesn’t just see the historic patterns of globalization shaping the future; he makes a promise that with action we can change the shape of it.

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