Direct: The Rise of the Middleman Economy and the Revolution Underway
Finance expert, law professor, and fellow overwhelmed consumer Kathryn Judge investigates the surprising ways that middlemen have taken control of the economy at the expense of the rest of us, and provides practical guidance about how to regain control, find more meaning, and contribute to a more sustainable economy.
Over the past thirty years, middlemen have built intricate financial and retail empires capable of moving goods across the country and around the world — transforming the economy and our lives. Because of middlemen, we enjoy an unprecedented degree of choice and convenience. But the rise of the middleman economy comes at a steep price.
In Direct, Columbia law professor Kathryn Judge shows how overgrown middlemen became the backbone of modern capitalism and the cause of many of its ailments. Middlemen today shape what people do, how they invest, and what they consume. They use their troves of data to push people to buy more, and more expensive, products. They use their massive profits and expertise to lobby lawmakers, tilting the playing field in their favor. Drawing on a decade of research, Judge shows how to fight back: Go to the source.
The process of direct exchange — and the resulting ecosystem of makers and consumers, investors and entrepreneurs — fosters connection and community and helps promote a more just, resilient, and accountable economic system. Direct exchange reminds us that our actions always and inevitably impact others, as it rekindles an appreciation of our inherent interconnectedness. As Judge reveals in this much-needed book, direct exchange is both the cornerstone of the solution and a tool for revealing just how much is at stake in decisions about “through whom” to buy, invest and give.
Business | Economic History | Entrepreneurial and Small Business Operations
New York, NY
“In Direct, Judge gives us a rich, revealing chronicle of how corporate behemoths and bad public policy have put too much distance between farm and table, manufacturer and shopper — all while inciting consumer gluttony and pillaging the environment. It’s a clarion call for the simple pleasure of conducting direct exchanges with makers who pour their hearts into sustainable products. If shopping at Walmart or Amazon has started to feel dangerously soulless, you must read this book.”
—Brad Stone, author of Amazon Unbound and The Everything Store
“For more than two hundred years, modernity was thought to involve the transition from gifts and personal ties to a world dominated by impersonal markets and efficient transactions. In this brilliant contribution, Judge turns the established notion of 'progress' on its head. Middlemen have become too big, too pervasive, and too powerful. We need to understand when and how more direct connections work — and move our lives, our businesses, and our public policy in that direction. Essential reading for anyone who cares about the future of good jobs and the world we leave for our children.”
—Simon Johnson, coauthor of Jump-Starting America and former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund
“Though our modern commercial economy yearns to give us everything, there is something deeply frustrating about this system. In this beautifully written and powerful book, Judge helps us see a different way forward. With strategies that inform the policies of government and individuals alike, this is a blueprint for remaking the machine — and an urgent call that we get it done.”
—Lawrence Lessig, professor at Harvard Law School and author of Republic, Lost
“This book is a must-read for anyone who seeks to understand how markets work today. This is a book that explains why rural communities are losing their small farms and businesses. This book is about how finance is slowly killing the American dream. It is a warning about the myriad harms the mono-crop and homogenized markets of the near future will impoverish community life and inhibit innovation. Judge is a top scholar in the field whose refreshingly readable story will resonate with every American who has stopped by a local grocery story or purchased an item online recently.”
—Mehrsa Baradaran, author of The Color of Money and How the Other Half Banks
“The modern way we consume has led to tremendous efficiency and abundance. But at what price? In Direct, Judge invites us to consider the human costs of losing touch with the source of the products and services in our lives. She makes a subversive argument that may just change how you see your next purchase.”
—Arthur C. Brooks, professor at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School and author of From Strength to Strength
“With Direct, Judge shows us novel ways to reconnect in a world where powerful middlemen have pulled us apart. She explains how direct exchange — including between farmers and families, creators and collectors, through farmers markets and digital platforms — can strengthen our economy and our sense of self.”
—Jennifer Taub, author of Big Dirty Money and Other People’s Houses
“A fascinating and disturbing examination of the modern economy and how it works — and who benefits.”
Judge, Kathryn, "Direct: The Rise of the Middleman Economy and the Revolution Underway" (2022). Faculty Books. 340.