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Capitalism: Its Origins and Evolution as a System of Governance Hardcover – October 3, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 680 pages
  • Publisher: Springer; 1st edition (October 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 146141878X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1461418788
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #663,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Professor Scott presents the development of capitalism as a political process, the result of conflicts among social actors, with capitalists and government officials as the main actors. While focused on the United States, this book has the great merit of showing that American capitalism was a contingent and not inevitable outcome, and that different balances of forces and different circumstances created distinct varieties of capitalism in other countries and historical moments. This book’s insights deserve careful consideration from historians, social scientists, and all those who address economic issues in the political realm.

Richard Lachmann,
Professor of Sociology
College of Arts and Sciences
University at Albany

From the Back Cover

Two systems of governance, capitalism and democracy, prevail in the world today. Operating in partly overlapping domains, these systems influence and transform each other, but the nature of this interaction is often misunderstood -- largely because capitalism has not been recognized as a system of governance. Rejecting the simple definition "capitalism = actions of firms in markets," Harvard's Bruce R. Scott offers instead a conception of capitalism as a three-level system akin to organized sports, in which games (markets) are conducted according to rules administered by referees (regulators), which in turn are shaped and directed by sports' governing bodies (political authorities).

Tracing the evolution of capitalism from a variety of perspectives, Scott shows how governance has always been key to the system. Historically, capitalism was not a natural outgrowth of trade; it could not have emerged without political authorization for the creation of markets for land, labor, and capital. Urgently needing funds for military defense, regimes ceded some power to a new class of economic actors, spelling out their rights and responsibilities with corporate charters. The United States Constitution was anomalous in reserving to individual states the power to grant such charters, with the result that states compete to offer firms the least regulation. The Constitution also gave exceptional powers to the Supreme Court, which has interpreted the Constitution as mandating laissez-faire policies.

It is impossible to adequately understand capitalism without understanding the role played by governance. This book challenges the notion of a "universal" model of capitalism, particularly one based on the US system, and illuminates the broader frameworks upon which markets depend.

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By philip yeo on August 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Review of Bruce R. Scott's "Capitalism"

Bruce Scott's "Capitalism" book is a timely critique of US style Capitalism and Democracy. The book argues that Capitalism is above all a system of governance, which means that it can be misgoverned.

When I first saw the 705 page book it looked a very formidable reading. As I bravely read on I found the story of the chronological evolution of Capitalism absorbing and informative. I learned how in recent years US Capitalism and Democracy have influenced and transformed each other in ways that seem in considerable measure problematic.

With the 2009 collapse of the US financial bubble and its disastrous tsunami effect on almost all of Europe, America's unfettered faith in the free market is increasingly questioned - by some at home and by more in the rest of the world. America, like a passionate missionary, actively promotes its twin system of governance - Capitalism and Democracy - to the world at large.

The winner-take-all Capitalism has led to the creation of an economic system in the US, not once but twice, as Scott shows, where the benefits of the system flow very disproportionately to the top 1% of the electorate. For reasons Scott explains, the system today severely contracts the lower and middle echelons to uplift the top echelon of the economic pyramid. As Gordon Gecko said: Greed is good.

The Citizens United's First Amendment victory over the Federal Election Commission (FEC) prohibition of unions, corporations and not-for-profit organizations from broadcasting electioneering communications has opened the flood gates of unlimited corporate funding. Business can again influence US elections without embarrassment. This was followed by the Speechnow.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Part I: The Concept of Capitalism:

Describing the elephant:

So, what is "capitalism,"anyway? For two centuries, whole library shelves have been filled with efforts to answer that question. However, there is evidently always so much left unexplained. Theorists resemble at best the blind men describing the elephant by the part they find themselves examining.

Bruce R. SCott demonstrates conclusively one major shortcoming of most efforts. The focus is too narrow. It inevitably leaves out much of the elephant. Scott provides a sholarly explanation of the inherent ineptness of narrowly focused modern economics and its mathematical versions. Government and private institutions and political policy sometimes facilitate and sometimes hinder market mechanisms and do much that is destructive or absolutely necessary. Only with the broader interdisciplinary scope of political economy, including sociology, law, political science and institutional administration, can valid explanations be developed for such vital phenomena as 1) economic growth or decline, 2)the business cycle, 3) the underperformance of many social democratic economic systems, and 4) the many failures of economic development policy.

The Futurecasts book review at [...] covers a sampling of other issues raised by Scott that cannot be adequately analyzed within the narrow focus of modern economics, including 1) market disciplinary mechanisms and administered alternatives, 2) financial oligarchs, 3) Constitutional constraints on federal economic policy, 4) stakeholder capitalism, 5) how markets are "tilted," 6) industrial policy, 7) abuse of the economic commons, 8) government enterprises, and 9) competition in political markets.
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By Arnie on May 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had just finished an on-line course on the history of American Capitalism and wanted a reference book for all my unanswered questions. I tried the library and this was the only book I found that not only dealt with history but also gave a well thought out current global perspective.
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By zamir bhimji on January 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
hardcover, like-new. great buy. really helps with class because it was written by my prof but it flows like an intelligent conversation
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