A package of hard numbers encased in simple statements is all it takes in David Lester’s The Gruesome Acts of Capitalism to make a powerful agit-prop tool out of a small book. Like an unrelenting Michael Moore in print, the type is crudely designed to make the numbers jump out. Readers may end up seething at the corporations and sickened by celebrity-economics after grazing this little book. It’s not that easy to feel indifferent to the fact that the US has bombed 22 countries since 1945, even if it wasn’t a country you were living in; or that there are 500,000 slaves in Bangladesh. And it is even harder to stomach the nasty facts of life close to home. For example, the average British wedding in 2003 cost $96 per minute; 1.2 million women and girls under 18 are trafficked each year, and that, while life expectancy in Britain rose from 71 to 78 years in the last three decades, in Zimbabwe it dropped from 56 to 31 years. Whether it is billions spent on birthdays, weddings and bombs, or lives lost to poverty, poor medical care and low education scores, these are the statistics of a world where equality has been forgotten in the celebration of excess. The sources of these nuggets are mostly official and mainstream: they include the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the Worldwatch Institute.
As the basis for a quiz game or a source to settle serious arguments, this random collection serves as slightly perverse entertainment. It is proof that flaunting capitalism’s worst excesses can be fun.