on January 6, 2003
It isn't often that I find myself reading an entire book, or taking notes on every page, but that's how intriguing I found Jerry Muller's easy-to-read and profound new book. I am an admirer of his previous work, Adam Smith in His Time and Ours, which I cited several times in my own history, "The Making of Modern Economics." But this book outperforms all previous efforts. It is essentially an historical commentary on the long-standing debate over the cultural effects of capitalism, a debate between the advocates (Voltaire, Adam Smith, Burke, Hegel, Weber, Schumpeter, and Hayek) and the critics (Rousseau, Marx, Arnold, Sombart, Lukacs, Keynes, and Marcuse). I learned a great deal, especially Voltaire's fraudulent business practices, Burke's long fight against the East India Company, Hegel's surprising defense of individualism and the market, the brilliant insights of Georg Simmel, Schumpeter's subtle subterfuge of intellectuals, and Muller's extensive coverage of anti-semitism and capitalism. (One surprising omission is Veblen, whose cultural criticisms of capitalism are well-known, but frankly, it is refreshing to read a book without a reference to the conspicuous Veblen). I won't give away author's perspective on this never-ending debate, but one can only be awe-struck by Muller's achievement.
on June 4, 2008
This is a remarkable book. Besides the usual variety that appears in most books on economic thought (Smith, Marx, Keynes, Hayek, Schumpeter) it includes a nice selection of non-economists such as Voltaire, Burke and Marcuse. Muller is a master of situating intellectuals in their respective context and presenting them in lively detail. Having read Voltaire's "Candide", it was remarkable to find out about his personal adventures with financial speculation. When dealing with Smith, Muller takes pains to retain all the nuances, such as Smith's claim that division of labor, no matter how productive, could make human beings "as stupid and ignorant as it possible for a human creature to become". As Muller is a specialist on conservative thought, his treatment of a variety of criticisms of the market by conservatives is very intriguing. Furthermore, although chapters are written in a way to make them independent of each other, Muller links them nicely using common themes and referring back to already discussed, older ideas. One of such themes is the identification of capitalism with Jews. One might find it surprising how old and often recurring this identification was in European thought.
My main qualm regards Muller's treatment of the left. Although all of the selections are understandable (Marx is a must, Lukacs is representative of 20th century communism and easy to juxtapose with Freyer, while Marcuse is representative of the New Left), large strands of interesting left-wing thought are omitted. Karl Polanyi who wrote the classic about the industrial revolution and the nature of the market ("The Great Transformation") and who seems like a perfect addition to such a book is only mentioned in one of the hundreds of footnotes. Anarchists seem non-existent. The reader might walk away with the feeling that the only things the left has to offer are nagging and central-planning. In the meantime, Hayek and Schumpeter - classical liberals with overlapping ideas (e.g. the role of the entrepreneur) are both given separate chapters. On an unrelated note, some might find the treatment of Keynes inadequate as well. In the first page of the Keynes/Marcuse chapter, Muller states that "[Keynes] provided an economic rationale for governments to try to actively combat unemployment by raising the level of government spending" (p. 317). You will hear the same reductionism in an intro to macro college course, but Keynes' insights were way more nuanced (the role of uncertainty - see: Duncan Foley's "Adam's Falalcy"; the need for a fundamentally different monetary policy - see: Allan Meltzer's and Geoff Tily's work) and often cannot be described as "Keynesian" (or rather, what came to be viewed as "Keynesian").
Despite these flaws, this is a very well-written, insightful and stimulating book. If you are interested in the history of economic thought and more broadly - the different attitudes toward the market economy, make sure to check it out.
on March 9, 2003
THE MIND AND THE MARKET is a compulsively readable history of economic thought which deserves to be a best-seller. I am not an economist or a political philosopher but rather a writer about the arts and culture, and I am devouring this book. The chapters on Hegel, Marx, and Matthew Arnold are each alone worth the price of admission. Muller carries his erudition lightly, and his prose has the calm, effortless, sparkling lucidity of a great teacher lecturing in his prime.
on March 2, 2003
Capitalism is the world's most powerful idea about political, economic and moral relationships between people, enterprises and the state. It has brought immense opulence to hundreds of millions of people and hope for economic liberation to hundreds of millions more. But capitalism is not just a way of doing business. No culture nor any state can harness capitalism with a management school curriculum. Capitalism is a complex tapestry of economic arrangements, governmental obligations, cultural traditions, personal behavioral norms, concepts for production enterprises, methods of management, public acceptance of investment, encourage of competition, religious and ethnic tolerance and ideas of personal property. It is a historical fact that secular states with individual economic liberty and free markets harvest the most from capitalism. Capitalism is not just economics.
Capitalism, as a global culture that defines our modern civilization, is therefore too important to be left to the economists. Jerry Z. Muller, a historian, has given us a book which in its sweep and breadth is up to the task of giving us a deeply thoughtful and insightful analysis of the evolution of capitalism's political, economic, social, ethical and psychological threads from early European thinking through the big intellectual ideas of the late Twentieth Century. He tells the story of the idea of the market, as it is formed and transformed by the great socio-politico-economic intellectuals - Voltaire, Adam Smith, Burke, Hegel, Marx, Simmell, Schumpeter, Keynes, Marcuse, Hayek, and others. As a historian, Muller interprets each man in the context of his time and culture. Muller's analysis is even handed, one of the great virtues of the book. There are thousands of political economy books, each with its own agenda if not unground axe. For me, The Mind and the Market is a level-headed guide through that thicket of thought. Muller coolly lays out the case for each ideology and clinically assesses its successes and failures, giving the devil his due, even if that devil is Marx, who while foisting the evil idea of collectivism upon the world did have empathy and voice for the terrible treatment of workers under early capitalism. Muller's trip through the minds of the great thinkers gives us the insights we need to understand how today?s manic anti-competition forces diminish our personal wealth and how governments with moral agendas weaken capitalism.
Even while Muller brings us tidal historical and economic insights, he also salts this book with one liners and anecdotes that illustrate the anatomy of capitalism. Here are a couple I liked.
- "Cultures that favor equality in poverty over greater but unequally distributed affluence tend to be less market oriented." Muller
- From Schumpeter: "The capitalist achievement does not typically consist in providing more silk stockings for the queen but in bringing them within reach of factory girls in return for steadily decreasing amounts of effort."
- Burke voicing the dilemma of capitalism: "It is hard to persuade us that everything that is got by another is not taken from ourselves."
- Fascists and socialists exploit resentment of those who succeed under market systems. Muller relates how Hungarian communists took control in 1919. The Hungarian Soviet nationalized private enterprises, made wages uniform and guaranteed employment. Labor discipline and productivity declined steeply. The communist experiment failed after 133 days. I gather from subsequent world events that no one was paying attention.
The Mind and the Market should be read by every world citizen to understand how we got the flow of wealth we enjoy and the roles of the state, individual liberty and market competition necessary to sustain our affluence. Capitalism is fragile. It does not come automatically with democracy. US capitalism is buffeted daily by well funded or popular pleas for the state to intervene in the market. They come under banners of anti-globalism, criticisms of the World Trade Organization, preserving the American family farm, special tax breaks to lower costs of domestic producers, Buy American Act, requirements for domestic content, special tariffs, quotas or restrictions on foreign-made products, protection against exporting jobs, closed shops, sustaining the American manufacturing base, regressive income taxes, and dispensations to monopolize trade, among other anti-liberal policies. Jerry Muller's marvelously well-written and colorful story of the road to capitalism helps us understand the essential roles played by open, competitive markets, personal liberties and a secular state in preserving and expanding our wealth.
I commend The Mind and the Market to you without reservation.
on May 28, 2005
"The Mind and the Market" is certainly a rare bird: a 400-page tract of intellectual history that manages to be lucid and fascinating, informative and persuasive. It is not a historical chronicle per se; instead it is a chronological sampling of biographical profiles of major and minor thinkers and how they viewed, with admiration and mistrust, capitalism and the "free market."
Muller examines the careers and thoughts of thinkers from the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries (from Adam Smith to Karl Marx), as well as more recent writers (such as George Lukacs and Friedrich Hayek) and lesser known intellectuals (Hans Freyer and Werner Sombart). An intriguing subplot of sorts that runs through these chapters is the societal and academic view of the role of Jewish populations in the development of the market; such views, even among the best thinkers (with few exceptions), tended to be harsh and simplistic. Muller's book does not in any way pretend to be comprehensive--he admits in the introduction that the authors under discussion "are drawn disproportionately from German-speaking Europe"--but this tighter focus allows for a better, more coherent narrative.
"The Mind and the Market" is at its best when it sticks to intellectual history; when Muller turns to economic history, however, he occasionally falters (or, more accurately, his discussion is nakedly incomplete). In his largely unimpeachable comments on Marx's myopia, for example, he counters that capitalist development in the late nineteenth century lead to better working and living conditions in England, as well as "improved standards of health and safety in one industry after another." Such a description of the standard of living is true, but "capitalist development" is only half the story and even that story applies to only to the island and not the empire. The British Isles also benefited from colonialism: unprecedented wealth entered the country at the same time that significant chunks of its labor supply shipped overseas to jobs in civil service and the military--often never to return (60,000 died in the Crimean War alone).
Similarly, Muller notes correctly that Hayek's economic theories have gained much prominence during the last three decades, but his arguments for their exoneration is a bit one-sided. He notes the deregulation and tax reduction in the United States during the 1980s but fails to admit the un-Hayek escalation in government spending (at both the federal and state levels) and in budget deficits.
Fortunately for the reader, however, such details, which comprise only small portions of the book, are beyond its scope and in no way compromise the integrity of Muller's discussion of these great thinkers. Taken as a whole, "The Mind and Market" amply displays the love-hate relationship between philosophers and capitalism and how that relationship has evolved during the last two centuries.
on March 10, 2009
I became aware of this book when taking Professor Muller's course from the Teaching Company which produces short courses in CD and DVD formats. It was one of the "essential" readings for the course.
Professor Muller provides in this book the total spectrum of economic theories and philosophies over the history of the science and the notion of market capitalism. The ideas covered range from those of Marx to Schumpeter, with the views of many who fall between these extremes also presented.
Professor Muller is unfailingly non-judgmental in these presentations and it would be difficult to discern any bias toward one form of political/economy over another. Judgment is left to the reader.
Although I would recommend this book for everyone at any time in the nation's history, never in my memory has such an exposition of economic thought been more timely. The current turmoil about markets and regulation begs for the clarity and perspective offered by this book.
I would even go so far a to say that it should be required reading for all high school students. It is not technically difficult, it is devoid of mathematics, and it is very entertaining.
Yet, if read carefully and thoughtfully it will provide a clearer understanding of the issues of the day and forever. Not much is as important as how a nation structures its political/economy, and there is much to consider during these times when it seems that there may be something fundamentally wrong with our current financial and economic systems and structures.
This book could help us deliberate these issues in a more informed way.
on February 20, 2005
Being interested in the topic made the book very helpful. But I was a bit disapointed with his obvious slant towards a free-market. Though I think he does a good job presenting arguments against capitalism and the free-market, he doesn't leave the arguments alone. For example, on Marx, he takes the time to make a critique that he does not make of other authors. Is this because he doesn't want his readers to be persuaded by Marx? That is my imperssion. Still, I found the book intersting and his treatment on Marcuse compelling.
But I was looking for a book that was not approching economics from a free-market perspective. I was unsure of his position when buying the book. The other reviews I read gave me the impression that he was somehow un-biased (not that I thought anyone can be un-biased) or maybe even left leaning. But just so you know, I would say he is not left leaning, at least not in a Marxist sense. If you are looking for a Marxist critique of Capitalism, which I was, this isn't necesarily the book for you. But, it does put the whole discussion in a nice frame and presents the Marxists and anit-capitalists in a fair light. I enjoyed it from cover to cover.
It was a good book for me at the time and I would recomend it to anyone interested in the topic.
on August 11, 2005
The world of capitalism is presented to us through the eyes of the greatest European thinkers. Muller examines the relationship between the individual and the state though the prism of the marketplace tapping into the writings from thinkers such as Adam Smith, Marx, Voltaire, Schumpeter and Hayek. The depth and breath of this economic treatise on the marketplace presents perspectives from all sides of the political spectrum while taking the time and care to place that thinker's perspective within its proper historical context.
The thinkers that are tapped into come from a very broad swath of history. Their perspectives trace how western civilization left the feudal period where commerce and finance where frowned upon as immoral or dirty and how Europe eventually developed market-based institutions that we are so familiar with today. This book clearly shows how thinking men viewed the development of markets and how societies dealt with the social and moral benefits and costs of markets. Muller also describes how different societies in different time periods came to different conclusions on how a market should be regulated and managed as a result of the efforts of these great thinkers.
The way we operate today is linked inextricably to the past. Market-based societies are a product of western European history and culture. The answer to why things are like today can be found in the past and Mueller provides the key.
on August 7, 2011
Muller's book hits some very high notes, especially when he covers the proponents of capitalism. My enthusiasm was dampened, however, when I read the chapter on Marx. Muller's overview of Marx had a completely different tone than the rest of the book. Instead of surveying his work as he did with the other philosophers, Muller chastised and discredited, while omitting some of Marx's most important, and accurate, critiques of capitalism. His bias against Marx (I'll reserve further presumptions about Muller's views) was simply laid bare.
In spite of this shortcoming, I would recommend this book. It is a fascinating read, and a great stepping stone for those who wish to research economics and philosophy.
on December 29, 2004
Anyone who wants to be introduced to the richness of thought about capitalism in an enjoyable & accessible fashion should read this book!
I recommend it to all introductory economics professors seeking to spark their students' interest in the dismal science.