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The Invention of Capitalism: Classical Political Economy and the Secret History of Primitive Accumulation Paperback – May 3, 2000

4.6 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“After reading Michael Perelman's excellent book we see our world in different colors. The origin of market capitalism is the product of strategies pursued to take away from people the conditions for developing alternative ways to live and produce. We also discover that classical political economy has been so instrumental in guiding these strategies. The book leaves us to wonder how the same mechanisms are reproduced today. This critical question pervades the book.”—Massimo De Angelis, University of East London


“This study is to be admired for its comprehensiveness, scope, and the amount of unearthing and excavation Perelman provides. The indictment of political economists who addressed themselves to the matter of primitive accumulation is masterful.”—H. T. Wilson, York University

From the Publisher

“This study is to be admired for its comprehensiveness, scope, and the amount of unearthing and excavation Perelman provides. The indictment of political economists who addressed themselves to the matter of primitive accumulation is masterful.”—H. T. Wilson, York University

“After reading Michael Perelman's excellent book we see our world in different colors. The origin of market capitalism is the product of strategies pursued to take away from people the conditions for developing alternative ways to live and produce. We also discover that classical political economy has been so instrumental in guiding these strategies. The book leaves us to wonder how the same mechanisms are reproduced today. This critical question pervades the book.”—Massimo De Angelis, University of East London --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (May 3, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822324911
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822324911
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #523,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Emily Dimov Gottshall on February 2, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is the first book I've read that goes into much detail about the subject of primitive accumulation, and I'm impressed. Having an American History perspective, when I think about the social engineering behind a capitalist economy, I think about protective tariffs, slavery, moving Indians off the land, subsidies to canals and railroads, etc. It's fascinating to see that coercion and government involvement goes back much farther than that. And it's good to learn about some of the more forgotten political economists like James Steuart.
One does not have to be particularly leftist appreciate this book. Whether means to capitalist economic development was wrong or a "necessary evil", it's still extremely useful to know that things just didn't evolve naturally out of free exchange. The system was consciously engineered so that the "right sort" of people would be successful, and there's nothing sinister when people, through democratic choice, re-engineer things to bring about a reduction in income inequality, environmental protection, etc.
While not all leaders and thinkers in the 18th century were economists, I have a slight problem with the portrayal of Adam Smith. Now perhaps I've been seduced by his charm, but it seems as though he has a more complex view of the common good. Of course he wasn't a modern leftist or a cultural relativist, but at the same time, he wasn't a William Graham Sumner-style Social Darwinist of the late 1800s either.
"Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters. When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters.
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Format: Paperback
An impressive study of the significance of Primitive Accumulation in the development of the refined and reified slavery that we call Capitalism. Through Primitive Accumulation, in its pure, somewhat abstract "original sin" form, the ancestors of those who today control the wealth and power in the world robbed- by violence and brute coercion- the means of autonomous livelihood from the majority of peoples. It was the brutal process of "separating people from the means of providing for themselves" to turn them into instruments of production for profits, as in factories. This process evolved into more habitual and masked "market relations" to institutionalize and render more permanent the status of workers as wage quasi-slaves. In contrast to Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham and other apologists and defenders of the system. Marx described this process with historical concreteness describing such historical events as the English Enclosure and Game laws. The conventional view has been that primitive accumulation was substituted by subtle and less exploitative reified market relations. But, as Perelman explains with resolute clarity,the two aspects of Capitalism are dialectically and continuously interlocked. After all, between Bentham's struggle to subdue the poor into military work prisons with lives rigidly controlled in the service of the Masters' profits- shades of Auschwitz- and Greenspan's concerns (!) about the "wealth effect" reducing the willingness of workers with some minimal invested savings to get back to the "labor force" for "flexible" wages and the new regulator of "markets" concern for "unacceptably low levels of unemployment"- is there, really, that much difference ? The brutal process continues with such slogans as "buy when there's blood in the streets", and Michael Perelman has done a great service in describing it.
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Format: Paperback
Perelman's painstaking analysis of 'Primitive Acculumation' is an absolute masterpiece. I've never seen a more trenchant and well researched piece on the birth of capitalism. One does not have to possess of leftist orientation to appreciate this powerful critique of the origins of capitalist system. It vividly demonstrates the 'ahistoricalness' of so much of the classical free market theology, and exposes the real ideological underpinnings of capitalism's brutal rise to eminence. Perelman analyzes not only the familiar texts, but also the private writings of several well-known and not so well-known political economists and other figures (fans of Adam Smith may be a little let down!). The other review was quite excellent so I needn't continue with the accalaides; but I seriously recommend to all those interested the history of capitalism and political economy to take a look at Perelman's well written and balanced perspective.
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Format: Paperback
You're self-employed, with many religious holidays, and while you're not rich, at least you're getting along. So why give this up to become a wage worker for somebody else, with little spare time, and a struggle for subsistence. Despite obvious simplifications, this is a core problem confronting capital at the dawn of the modern era, known also as primitive accumulation. How, that is, can self-sufficient peasants and others of similar status be converted into subservient factory hands, an obvious degradation. Yet without some such conversion, where would the labor for fields and factories come from if not the rural economy. To meet the need, New World colonies imported slaves and indentured servants. But Great Britain needed a new social division of labor, one that would stock emerging markets with commodities from a work force employed by a new social class. As conditions stood, the capitalist equation was only half complete--a wage labor class was needed.
Perelman examines the problem through the eyes of early political economists such as Adam Smith. What he finds is disturbing. Smith and followers generally suppress the real historical conflict, replacing actual coercive measures (game laws, etc.) with imaginary allusions to voluntary choice, as though worker autonomy was willingly swapped for a dependent wage rate. Nonetheless, voluntarism preserves the fiction of an immaculate conversion, and comports with market relations as an irresistable harmonizing force --the Smithian paradigm. However, other early thinkers primarily James Steuart are more candid than Smith, arguing that state intervention is necessary to separate working people from their subsistence, forcing them into the labor pool.
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