If you think America is suffering from severe income equality, Arundhati Roy would like to talk to you for a moment about the largest democracy in the world: "In a nation of 1.2 billion, India's one hundred richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP." This is the first page of the first chapter of her new essay collection, Capitalism: A Ghost Story, and the news doesn't improve from there. Over fewer than a hundred pages, Roy lays horror upon horror, describing a world where the United States' promise of democracy and capitalism has gone sour, and the specter of corporatism haunts the globe.
Capitalism is a brief, up-to-date portrait of India as a political entity. But you don't have to squint too hard to find parallels with the United States in, say, the portion where Roy rages against the sale of telecoms to large corporations. And her description of the Disneyfication of Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy "to fit a market-friendly format" through corporate philanthropy should make every global citizen angry. (The culprits include General Motors and Monsanto, and if you need proof that King's message has been diluted by these companies, Roy offers the name of a Martin Luther King Jr. lecture series sponsored by corporate philanthropy: "The Free Enterprise System: An Agent for Nonviolent Social Change." It takes guts to reposition King as a Ron Paul–style libertarian.)
For such a thin book, Capitalism covers a lot of ground. Roy addresses the supposedly feminist battle over burkas, which in France has become "not about liberating her but unclothing her. It becomes an act of humiliation and cultural imperialism." She highlights the tension between India and Pakistan, which has increased to the point where agencies in Kashmir are releasing "survival tips" to the public in case of nuclear war. And she closes the book with a simple list of four demands, as a way to combat inequality.
Five years ago, this book would have felt revolutionary, but now—as Roy points out, thanks to the Occupy movement changing the conversation—Capitalism feels like straight reportage from the front lines of a war. In every part of the world, the rich few keep getting richer on the backs of a population that continues to work harder and grow poorer for it. And Roy keeps sending these furious, intelligent bulletins to alert us to what's going on. More people than ever are listening to her.