It’s hard to imagine a more hackish book review than what Ira Stoll pulls off at Reason. Reviewing Rich Cohen’s new book on the United Fruit Company (this is the first I’ve heard about the book although I’ll probably take a look at it), Stoll notes that the story of Sam “The Banana Man” Zemurray and capitalism writ large is a story of great things, with the occasional blemish.
What are the great things Stoll ties to Zemurray and United Fruit? Upward mobility! Technological innovation! “Bias-free marketing creativity!” Egalitarianism! Decentralization! Philanthropy (properly used to help create Israel of course)!
And then there’s a tiny paragraph showing the supposed downside:
And the United Fruit story also reminds us of some of the hazards when capitalism becomes cronyism. The book recounts all the Washington insiders hired by Zemurray as lobbyists, including Tommy “the Cork” Corcoran. A business that lives by Washington is finally at its mercy, as United Fruit learned when the antitrust cops came after it.
Let’s see, so the story of United Fruit is almost perfect, like an almost unblemished banana with one tiny bruise. I wonder if United Fruit had any negative connotations. Oh let’s see, there’s only like 100 books on the utter evil of United Fruit and the banana trade. So there’s the destabilization of Guatemala through the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz because he threatened to nationalize unused United Fruit lands. There’s the horrible labor and environmental practices of the fruit companies that led to, among other things, workers turning blue. There’s the monocultures that led to banana diseases that continue to threaten the long-term supply of the fruit. There’s the time that Guatemala and Honduras almost went to war when each was controlled by a particular banana company that both wanted on the border. There’s the fruit company not respecting the sovereignty of their respective hosts, quite literally creating the term “banana republics”; capitalist hero Sam Zemurray himself hired mercenaries to overthrow the Honduran government in 1910.
And there’s so many more terrible things that these companies did to Central America.
But none of this matters for Ira Stoll or Reason. No cost to labor, nature, or human life is high enough if the end is a justification of extremist capitalism.