Chris P. Bacon's Economic Book Club: May 2011

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Chris P. Bacon
Chris P. Bacon's picture
Joined: 02/28/2010

Just for something different, I thought I'd share some thoughts on a book I am reading and perhaps stimulate some adult debate.

I am currently reading The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism, written by the past president of the American Historical Society, Joyce Appleby.

The book is a refreshing, candid look at the successes and failures of capitalism over the past 500 years. It is remarkably even-handed, not passing moral judgment one way or the other.

It takes a comprehensive look at the tenets of capitalism, not just the economic results. There are some references to politics, but only in terms of the impact of political decisions upon capitalism in general (i.e. wars denying access to usual trading partners, rules requiring American tobacco to be shipped exclusively to Great Britain, etc).

Of particular interest was the complex relationship between capitalism and slavery. The author offers an elegant argument that capitalism as we know it today could not have come into existance without the growth of slavery from 1500s to the late 1700s, which created the level of profits required to make capitalism a success (and simultaneously opening up the New World for economic expansion/exploitation).

The author offers an interesting take on the so-called "Industrial Revolution", arguing that the revolution in Industry was secondary to the revolution in "factory farming", the introduction of massive sugar, coffee and tobacco plantations.

It's a very readable book, a look back at capitalism from the "50,000 foot" level. I give it four out of five Bacon Strips ♒ ♒ ♒ ♒.

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