Tangled on the Web of greed and generosity

THE VIRTUE OF PROSPERITY Finding Values in an Age of Techno-Affluence

By Dinesh D'Souza The Free Press 284 pp., $26

It's become commonplace for critics on both the right and the left to bemoan the ways computer technology and the sudden wealth of dotcom entrepreneurs have eroded the moral, social, and spiritual foundations of our culture.

In his latest book, social critic Dinesh D'Souza expresses concern that this new form of capitalism decays family relationships, community values, and enchantment with nature. Although his study presents itself as a critique of "techno-capitalism," his book embraces rather naively what he claims are the virtues of this new prosperity.

After attending a party in Silicon Valley where dotcom millionaires slap themselves on the back and engage in a game of one-upsmanship, D'Souza declares that the new economy will "reshape our lives." He notes that "these revolutions promise to transform our very nature as human beings and possibly introduce a new species into the world, the posthuman." D'Souza then wonders out loud about the dangers and the benefits of such change.

He sees very few dangers. The spirit of individualism and the freedom to pursue happiness form the warp and woof of the fabric of the American Dream, according to D'Souza. He finds those principles alive and well in the lives of the various self-made millionaires he profiles in the book. Moreover, he proclaims optimistically that "the American Dream has become a global dream that is spreading hope to other nations as well."

D'Souza declares that the new capitalism has altered, and will continue to alter, the social terrain in America and the world. It has erased inequality, virtually eliminated scarcity, and restored humankind's relationship to nature. More important, he believes, is that "capitalism makes us better people because it puts our imagination and our efforts at the behest of others."

In the service of this defense, D'Souza makes some rather hyperbolic claims. For example, he argues that Bill Gates - "to the extent that he has placed the power of information technology at the disposal of millions of people" - has done more to eradicate poverty and suffering than Mother Teresa. D'Souza also contends that this new techno-capitalism has eliminated scarcity and erased inequality in society. Yet, two-thirds of the world would disagree. There may be enough cellphones for every person on the planet to own one, but the struggle for food in most countries overrides the necessity of buying such a device. His own charts indicate that the gap between rich and poor in America has widened considerably in the past 10 years. This gap has increased even more worldwide.

D'Souza's reckless assertions, his sometimes arrogant manner, and his shoddy prose offer no compelling new evidence that the prosperity produced by techno-capitalism possesses any virtues.

Henry L. Carrigan Jr. is a freelance writer living in Lancaster, Penn.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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