Capitalism, the German sociologist Jens Beckert argues, is based on fantasy: People (and institutions) spend, save, and earn money in hopes of achieving an imagined life. But the future of capitalism and the financial market—and the ability to achieve that fantasy—is shrouded in uncertainty. So how does one understand it? Through literature, as Beckert suggests.
Sally Rooney’s sophomore novel, Normal People, embeds politics into a love story about two people of different socioeconomic statuses, demonstrating “how relationships can function like miniature states,” as the critic Annalisa Quinn writes. In Marie Kondo’s best-selling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which has been adapted into a Netflix series, the physical and emotional effects of consumer culture are revealed for KonMari converts—but, as one writer notes, an immense privilege goes along with having clutter that can easily be thrown or given away.
In the world of real estate, there’s Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal. According to an ethicist, Trump depicts capitalism as something akin to a “morality play,” in which “instincts,” “gut,” and “courage” make way for success, rather than as a system of economics. The flawed belief that all people, so long as they aren’t complacent, so long as they know “the art of the deal,” can financially succeed in America is further analyzed in The Class Ceiling, in which two sociologists explain how “hidden mechanisms” help those born rich continue to accrue wealth through elite jobs.
Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas, and ask you for recommendations of what our list left out.
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What We’re Reading
The strictures, and possibilities, of love under capitalism
“Though [Sally] Rooney’s characters have scalding contempt for capitalism and its trappings … politics in Rooney’s novel are often ambient rather than explicit, submerged under the surface of a love story.”