The Intellectual Origins of the Global Financial Crisis

By Roger Berkowitz; Taun N. Toay | Go to book overview

FOURTEEN
Capitalism
NEITHER PROBLEM NOR SOLUTION-BUT
TEMPORARY VICTIM OF THE FINANCIAL CRISIS

LIAH GREENFELD

I want to respond to the provocative question raised by the editors with regard to the recent financial crisis: “Is capitalism the problem or the solution?” It is neither the problem nor the solution. Instead, capitalism is the temporary victim—in academic discussion, in the United States and some European countries. It is held to be responsible by those who don’t know whom to blame. If we are looking for the origin, or the solution, to the financial crisis, we should turn from capitalism to nationalism. Nationalism, not capitalism, is both the creator of the problem and the provider of the solution.

What is capitalism? The term capitalism nowadays most commonly designates the modern economic process, as distinguished from traditional economies by its orientation toward and capacity to sustain growth. The principle of capitalism is, as formulated by Marx in Capital, “Money > Commodity > More Money,” or by Max Weber, “profit and forever renewed profit.”

So understood as the power of wealth to beget more wealth, capitalism emerged in sixteenth-century England, which set the example of sustained economic growth for the world. Before England spawned the first modern capitalist economy, economic activity throughout the world was oriented to subsistence. If people accumulated wealth, they did this to live, rather than living to accumulate wealth. As rational economic agents, they worked hard and saved until they felt that they had enough for whatever condition they felt to be comfortable. And when they reached this stage of comfort, they stopped working hard and began to spend their savings.

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