The Trap

Book by Sir James Goldsmith

Review by Thom Hartmann, originally published at buzzflash.com on October 7, 2005.

When Sir James Goldsmith died in 1997, one of the more prominent obituaries of him appeared in the conservative National Review. On the other hand, a right-winger wrote a negative blast of Goldsmith's book "The Trap" on Amazon. That he could be hated and loved by conservatives -- and embraced by progressives -- is a testament to the breadth and brilliance of this man.

Goldsmith went from high-school dropout to multi-billionaire in about 20 years. One of the richest men in the world at the time "The Trap" was written, he unabashedly bit the hand of international capitalism that played a large role in feeding him. The book opens, for example, with this observation:

"We have convinced ourselves that there exists only one valid economic and social model: our own. By attempting to impose it universally, we have exported to almost every corner of the world our diseases: crime, drugs, alcoholism, family breakdown, civil disorder in urban slums, accelerated abuse of the environment and all the other problems that we experience daily."

Perhaps the most important statement in the entire book follows two paragraphs later (which so impressed me that I used it as a chapter epigraph in my book "Unequal Protection"):

"The economy is a tool to serve us. It is not a demi-god to be served by society."

From there, in this short and simple book, written in Q &A format (questions by Yves Messarovitch), Goldsmith explores how we were hyped and oversold on the idea of "free trade," then challenges the oh-so-hip idea that nation-states are obsolete, takes on the welfare state and educational systems, and blows holes in the myths of "clean" and "safe" nuclear power.

Perhaps the most vital and thought-provoking chapters of the book, however, are titled "Modern Agriculture and the Destruction of Society" and "Why?" That over a decade ago (this book was composed in 1992) one of the world's richest men would be talking like the gorilla Ishmael in Daniel Quinn's novel of the same title is both fascinating and thought-provoking. That he would be entirely serious -- and willing to fund a political movement based in part on it -- is sobering.

Goldsmith notes, in his final chapter:

"Those of us who believe in free enterprise must understand that although in many nations and in many ways our beliefs remain eminently valid, on their own they are not sufficient. They must be integrated into the overriding imperatives of the biosphere as well as of human societies. Market forces must be harnessed to the needs of stable communities. Otherwise, like Marxists, we will be rejected as mechanistic relics of the past."

"The Trap" came into print in 1993, and went out of print, as far as I can tell, after Goldsmith died in 1997. Yet it's a brilliant read for reasons well beyond its historical significance as a glimpse into the Reagan/Bush/Clinton "conservative economics" era. Goldsmith was a deep thinker and a passionate lover of life and humanity. Although there are a few parts of his book with which I'd argue, or at least want to fine-tune, the overall arc of his logic is striking and consistent. It's neither conservative nor liberal, but deeply human. Or, perhaps best said, it transcends political labels -- which makes it all the more vital and important.

And, perhaps best of all, "The Trap" is a remarkably easy read. This is a book you can get all the way through on a single lazy Sunday afternoon.

I first discovered "The Trap" in the early 90s and it colors my thinking -- particularly on economic issues -- to this day. As it is out of print, Buzzflash has gone to the trouble of tracking down a number of used copies for this special offering so you can enjoy it, too.

This book is a special, rare, and delightful treat. Regardless of your opinion of Goldsmith or his positions in the book, you will be moved to think deeply about the most vital issues of the past -- and the next -- decade as we continue the transition from the 20th to the 21st centuries.

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