Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Capitalism Then and Now

Harold James

Is globalization reversible? Do currencies rise and fall like empires? How does culture influence economic development and performance? Is “authoritarian capitalism” in China and Russia viable? Can international institutions like the IMF really shape the world economy?

George Santayana’s famous gibe that those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it leaves open the question of what, exactly, is to be learned from history. Of course, the past, particularly where economics is concerned, can inform our judgments about what is happening today. But, too often, history is misremembered, or manipulated in order to cater to the interests of the moment. Indeed, Santayana might just as well have said that those who misinterpret the past are condemned to bungle the present.

Harold James, professor of history and international affairs at Princeton University and one of the premier economic historians of our time, is renowned for his scrupulous investigations of how the ideas, trends, and forces of the past have shaped – and continue to shape – the way we bank, how we trade, and what we tax. His insights illuminate the most complex aspects of historical change: how economics shapes the fates of nations, how inflation or bad policies can bring dictators to power, what previous attempts at free trade and globalization tell us about the future of today’s international economic order.

Each month, Harold James' commentaries in Capitalism Then and Now, written exclusively for Project Syndicate, bring his commitment to historical truth and balanced judgment to the vital economic questions of our times. Will the euro, or perhaps one day China’s yuan, replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency? Does the future belong to economic nationalism? How should policymakers and regulators ensure appropriate risk management?

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