Capitalism: A Short History Jürgen Kocka
Princeton University Press Hardcover | 2016 | $26.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691165226
The Breakout of the Soviet Unionand and withit the concept of State Socialism in every walk of life : the once -stagnant economies based on quasi socialism with methodologies best descriped as rip roaring capitalism, and the Great Recession of 2008/2009 have made Capitalism a top of the Agenda subject for both research and book publishing.Professor Jürgen Kocka an expert in Social History has written a wonderful narrative of global capitalism that provides except observations and background to the subject. "Jürgen Kocka is one of the most well known experts in the field of European History and like his previous books this compact book has all of his virtues: it's extremely clear and conceptually tight as well as very succinct.
The idea that it’s harder to write at length than concisely is so familiar that it has become a cliché, but it is surely true that if writing a history of capitalism then number of pages could be a help rather than a hindrance. Historian Jürgen Kocka has written Capitalism: A Short History at 169 pages. What’s more, it spans the centuries from China during the Han Dynasty through the Arab empire and the European Middle Ages to global financial capitalism today.
The point of the book is stated most clearly in the very last paragraph:
“Every era, every region and every civilization gets the capitalism it deserves. Currently, considered alternatives to capitalism are hard to identify. But within capitalism, very different variants and alternatives can be observes and even more of them can be imagined. It is their development that matters. The reform of capitalism is a permanent task. In this the critique of capitalism plays a central role.”
The unstated aim of the book,possible is to address the critics – generally speaking, these are the people who talk about ‘capitalism’, whereas capitalists talk about ‘the economy’, or something else. Kocha seems to be saying that a system of exchange based on markets is deeply embedded in human society and should be regarded as reformable but essential. He argues that capitalism is linked to financial innovation and therefore long pre-dates industrialisation, and one should not conflate the two. Double entry book-keeping, promissory notes, futures trading were all key for the formation of capitalism. And this financial development was closely linked to state formation.
Kocha therefore disagrees with the Marxist line that production and the organization of work are intrinsic to the definition of capitalism – although he accepts that, “Preindustrial commercial traditions of capitalism, wherever they persisted, significantly promoted the breakthrough to industrialization.”
If you’re neither a Marxist not a critic of capitalism in general (as opposed to some of its specifics today), this is a mildly interesting debate but not one to affect the blood pressure in either direction. On the other hand, there are some nice insights, and it is after all a short book, ideal for a train journey or flight. Describing the capitalism we would like to deserve would take rather more pages.