Capitalism’s Great Reckoning
As the maladies of modern capitalism have multiplied, fundamental questions about the future of the world’s dominant economic model have become impossible to ignore. But in the absence of viable alternatives, the question is how to reform a system that is increasingly at odds with democracy.
- Joseph E. Stiglitz, People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent, W.W. Norton, New York; Allen Lane, London, 2019.
- Paul Collier, The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties, Harper, New York; Allen Lane, London, 2018.
- Branko Milanovic, Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World, Belknap Press, Cambridge, 2019 (forthcoming).
AUSTIN, TEXAS – What fate awaits capitalism, and to what extent do our current economic conditions reflect its shortcomings? With deferential references to Adam Smith, and firmly anchored in the high critical tradition of political economy, all three books under review seek to answer these questions. Their authors are all capitalists, resigned if not enthusiastic; they share a conviction that there is no viable alternative system. Thus, whatever its flaws, capitalism must be reformed.
In People, Power, and Profits, Nobel laureate economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, the great chronicler of globalization and its discontents, offers a lucid assault on the economics and policies of the Trump era. In The Future of Capitalism, Paul Collier, an Oxford University economist best known for his critiques of the prevailing approach to development aid, assumes the mantle of the moral philosopher, like Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. He argues that capitalism is “morally bankrupt,” but that it can be redeemed, if only by – somehow – building a new ethical foundation.
Finally, Branko Milanovic, an intrepid economic statistician at the City University of New York Graduate Center, best known for his work on global inequality, provides a contemporary taxonomy of capitalism, dividing it broadly into the “liberal meritocratic” version found in the West and the “political authoritarian” dispensation that has emerged in China and elsewhere in Asia. (Where Japan fits in this dichotomy I could not tell.) His forthcoming book, Capitalism, Alone, considers which species will emerge as the dominant variant of the world’s only viable economic system.