Book Review: “The Amazing Career of a Pioneer Capitalist by Martha Howell” | The New York Review of Books

Martha Howell’s review of The Richest Man Who Ever Lived: The Life and Times of Jacob Fugger provides an excellent overview of early capitalism in Europe. If you are interested in the history of capitalism you’ll find this review enjoyable.

Bringing the past to bear on the present, Howell points out a notable fact about capitalism:

“If Fugger was not the “first capitalist,” the story of his life perfectly exemplifies sixteenth-century capitalism and suggests a fundamental truth about many more forms of capitalism, one that was so monstrously embodied by the Dutch East India Company: wealth is won and preserved with the support of a state that is, in turn, dependent on the riches accumulated by the few who excel in commerce. In some periods, at some moments of technological history, the riches are typically extracted from ever more efficient production, invariably aided by ruthless exploitation of human labor and natural resources. In others the wealth comes principally from control of supplies, manipulation of demand, and management of distribution networks. But always the merchants grow rich because state power protects them or looks away when the time is right—and does so because in a world where commerce reigns, neither the state nor a powerful merchant class can exist without the other. We have Steinmetz’s book to thank not just for telling Fugger’s story so well but also for showing us how the partnership between state and commerce worked in the earliest days of European capitalism.”

Read the review here: The Amazing Career of a Pioneer Capitalist by Martha Howell | The New York Review of Books

“Why Tuition-Free College Makes Sense” | History News Network

At the HHN, Lawrence Wittner makes a good case for tuition-free college. The ever-increasing cost of higher education has made a college education unattainable for many, and as a result has contributed to the growing inequality.  The lack of public funding for higher education has also led to many other problems, including an increase in the use of low paying adjunct faculty as well as other schemes that undermine the educational mission.
“In addition, campus administrators, faced with declining income, are increasingly inclined to accept funding from wealthy individuals and corporations that are reshaping higher education to serve their interests.  From 2005 to 2013, two rightwing billionaires, Charles and David Koch, spent $68 million funding the kinds of programs they wanted on 308 U.S. college and university campuses.  In New York State, when Governor Andrew Cuomo initiated Start-Up NY, a scheme to provide a tax-free haven to businesses that moved onto or near public (and some private) college campuses, there was never any question about how SUNY’s chancellor and other administrators would respond.  Instead of resisting this business takeover of university facilities and mission, they became leading cheerleaders for it.”

Read the entire article here: History News Network | Why Tuition-Free College Makes Sense

This college building in Kansas was one of the first created under the 1862 Morrill Act

An Act of Iconoclasm? “Where Adam Smith and Occupy Agree: Inequality” – Bloomberg View

Inequality: “The godfather of free markets feared it would undermine the system he loved.”

Adam Smith has become such an icon that few venture to shatter the simplistic version of his ideas (outside of academia) known to most Americans. Few who hold this vision dear have actually read Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and if they have they read it from a modern perspective outside of the context in which Smith wrote it. And as a result, they misunderstand Smith’s ideas and his goals.

When it is read in context and with his other great work The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a different narrative emerges. David Lay Williams, in his article at Bloomberg View, explains some of the challenges to the dominate theory of Smith’s capitalism (self-interest, lassie-fare, the invisible hand, etc.)  when the complexities of Smith’s worldview are factored in. In this article, Williams focuses mainly on Smith’s concerns about inequality.

What does Williams hope to accomplish by looking back on Adam Smith’s philosophy?

“First, it challenges arguments made by those who insist that inequality wouldn’t have been problematic for the intellectual founder of free-market capitalism. Second, Smith offers insights into the nature of economic disparity that should guide a more enriched contemporary discussion of the issue. Many of today’s critiques of inequality center on how it can stifle economic growth. This may be true. But as a professor of moral philosopher, this wasn’t the focus of Smith’s commentary. Third, Smith’s attention to inequality as opposed to poverty is a rejoinder to those who suggest inequality isn’t problematic in itself. Finally, Smith’s inability to offer a solution, one may argue, is manifested in our own failure to address inequality and its accompanying troubles. We have inherited a system that has made no provisions for a dilemma apparent at its very foundations.”

Please read the entire article here: Where Adam Smith and Occupy Agree: Inequality – Bloomberg View

adam smith

Book Review: Ron Briley’s Review of John Merriman’s “Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune” HNN

The history of the Paris Commune is little known in the United States, but this history is not only riveting it has important lessons to offer. In 1871 the working class of Paris seized control of the government in Paris. However, the short-lived rule of the Communards ended with the massacre of approximately 15,000 to 20,000 by the French army. John Merriman recounts this tragedy in Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune. In his review of this book, Ron Briley sees this book as “provid[ing] an opportunity for contemporary readers to revisit the Commune and consider its legacy—for global capitalism has failed to provide the ending of history and dawning of a new age of prosperity following the collapse of the Soviet Union.” Read the entire review here:

History News Network | Review of John Merriman’s “Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune”

Massacre Paris Commune

History News Network | This Is What Right-to-Work Means

Too few of us know enough about this benign sounding policy: “the right to work.” As with most euphemisms, this phrase obscures more than it illuminates. Therefore, Elizabeth Tandy Shermer’s brief summary of the history of this policy is instructive. She ponders: “That guarantee certainly sounds benign, if not all-American. Who could be against the right to work, especially in a prolonged recession?” Read the entire article here:

History News Network | This Is What Right-to-Work Means.

sunbelt capitalism

History News Network | Why Aren’t People Up in Arms About Capitalism these Days?

Steve Fraser believes he has found the reason for the non-response to the current Gilded Age: “Can these two diverging political economies – one resting on industry, the other on finance – and these two polarized sensibilities – one fearing God, the other living in an impromptu moment to moment – explain the Great Noise of the first Gilded Age and the Great Silence of the second?” Read the entire article at:

The Age of Acquiescence