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The Evolution of American Capitalism

Although the American economic system has undergone significant change since colonial times, there are identifiable threads running through the centuries-long narrative. Chief among these are the themes of "liquidity" and state action – both of which can either be a blessing or a curse.

CAMBRIDGE – Jonathan Levy, a historian at the University of Chicago, is a leader in the burgeoning movement to place capitalism at the core of the American experience. His major new work provides a framework for reading American history over 400 years and a set of themes for explicating its conflicts and crises. Ages of American Capitalism is an outstanding work of scholarship and storytelling.

The “new history of capitalism” has been motivated in good part by the 2008 global financial crisis. The crisis demonstrated the impact that financial events could have on the real economy, thereby exploding the prevailing macroeconomic doctrine that treated such events as literally inconceivable. Levy is one of a number of generally younger historians whose work is available to enrich the ongoing construction of a macroeconomics that integrates the behavior of financial markets and institutions.

American Capitalism

The new history he delivers is different in kind from much that has gone before. It roots the “maps and chaps” of conventional historical narratives in the muck of economic life and the fantastic visions of financiers. It is a history constantly informed by what is happening in markets for goods, services, labor, and – especially – financial assets, but with the structure and movements of markets always understood to be shaped by political forces.