Thinking About Capitalism


I have just finished listening to an audio lecture series called  ‘Thinking About Capitalism’ by Jerry Muller.  It was 36 x 30 minute lectures produced by the Teaching Company for $US50.  You can find it here.    It is a terrific set of lectures — very informative and thought provoking.

It starts by discussing how commerce was viewed in the ancient world in the West and how it was viewed in medieval Europe.  It moves onto how market economies started to emerge in Europe.  This is familiar territory in many ways, but Muller concentrates on how the emergence of market exchange changes the way that different parts of society think and how they identify themselves.  He isn’t looking at the emergence of commerce from an economic perspective but more from a social and history of ideas perspective.

Next Muller discusses how the great thinkers of the 17th to 19th centuries thought about the emergence of market economies and capitalism.  He starts with Hobbs, then Locke, Adam Smith of course, Voltaire, Rousseau, Alexander Hamilton, Mill and Marx to mention just a few.  He only addresses what these thinkers had to say about capitalism.  The discussion is very focused in this way.

The lectures then turn to how the emerging social theorists of the early 20th century thought about capitalism.  He introduces Weber and Dirkheim.  I found this the best part of the book.  His discussion of Max Weber’s work, including “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” was for an eye opener for me.

Then there is a long discussion of the different views of  Schumpeter, Hayek, Keynes, Buchanan and many more, which again is familiar but filled in a lot of gaps for me.  It finishes with a discussion of discussion of different welfare systems and the how capitalism has reshaped family structures.

I have listened to about 50 lecture series from the Teaching Company over the years and ‘Thinking About Capitalism’ is one of the best.

One Response to "Thinking About Capitalism"
  1. Presuming you get an email when people comment on a post, I’d give a thanks for pointing this one out. I’d skipped it before (I listen to many TTC lectures since I can’t sit for long periods) because I thought it would retread ground I was familiar with, but a huge amount remained enlightening.
    One quibble is the way he sort of conflates Keynesianism with all intervention, including regulation. Whilst I’m sympathetic to the notion that there was a cultural “vibe” or zeitgeist that favoured both, to attribute this all to Keynes does him and the listener a dis service – particularly after Muller has done such a great job of portraying the real Adam Smith instead of the crude avatar of laissez faire.
    The absolute best TTC series I’ve heard so far is this. Simply the best history of Modern China in any medium.

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