Synopses & Reviews
Since the moment the deeply unsettling financial disaster erupted in September 2008, a crisis of confidence has gripped the economic mind. Experts of all stripes, from Alan Greenspan on down, were at a loss to explain what had happened.
A legendary scholar and critic of capitalism, David Harvey has been warning of problems for decades. Now, in The Enigma of Capital, Harvey provides a sweeping and brilliantly clear explanation of how the disaster happened, and how we can avoid another like it. Unlike other commentators, Harvey does not focus on subprime loans or mortgage securitization as the root cause of the calamity. Instead, he looks at something that reaches far deeper into the heart of capitalism--the flow of money through society. He shows how falling profit margins in the 1970s generated a deep transformation. With government assistance, capital was freed to flow across borders, and production moved to cheaper labor markets, depressing workers' incomes in the West. But as more and more money moved out of the laboring classes and into the pockets of the wealthy, a problem arose--how could the workers afford to buy the products which fueled the now-global economy? To solve this problem, a new kind of finance capitalism arose, pouring rivers of credit to increasingly strapped consumers. Moreover, these financial institutions loaned money to both real-estate developers as well as home buyers--in effect, controlling both the supply and demand for housing. But when the real-estate market collapsed, so did this financial edifice, an edifice that dominated our economy.
We cannot afford to simply shore up this financial system, Harvey writes; we need to undertake a radical overhaul. With this landmark account, ow updated with a new afterword analyzing the recent developments in global financial trends, he offers a richly informed discussion of how we can turn our economy in a new direction--fairer, healthier, more just, and truly sustainable.
For over forty years, David Harvey has been one of the world's most trenchant and critical analysts of capitalist development. In The Enigma of Capital,
he delivers an impassioned account of how unchecked neoliberalism produced the system-wide crisis that now engulfs the world.
Beginning in the 1970s, profitability pressures led the capitalist class in advanced countries to shift away from investment in industrial production at home toward the higher returns that financial products promised. Accompanying this was a shift towards privatization, an absolute decline in the bargaining power of labor, and the dispersion of production throughout the developing world. The decades-long and ongoing decline in wages that accompanied this turn produced a dilemma: how can goods--especially real estate--sell at the same rate as before if workers are making less in relative terms? The answer was a huge expansion of credit that fueled the explosive growth of both the financial industry and the real estate market. When one key market collapsed--real estate--the other one did as well, and social devastation resulted.
Harvey places today's crisis in the broadest possible context: the historical development of global capitalism itself from the industrial era onward. Moving deftly between this history and the unfolding of the current crisis, he concentrates on how such crises both devastate workers and create openings for challenging the system's legitimacy. The battle now will be between the still-powerful forces that want to reconstitute the system of yesterday and those that want to replace it with one that prizes social justice and economic equality. The new afterword focuses on the continuing impact of the crisis and the response to it in 2010.
About the Author
"The narrative delineates with admirable clarity the arcane details of the current financial crisis, while rehearsing the rise of capitalism as a historically specific 'process' plagued by fundamental dilemmas."--Publishers Weekly
"A lucid and penetrating account of how the power of capital shapes our world."--Andrew Gamble, Independent
"Elegant... entertainingly swashbuckling... Harvey's analysis is interesting not only for the breadth of his scholarship but his recognition of the system's strengths."--John Gapper, Financial Times
"Brisk and persuasive... Looking at the Unites States, it is hard to see anything as Benign as the New Deal coming out of the present situation. If it does, it will probably owe a good deal to David Harvey's students."--The Literary Review
"[T]he recent near-collapse of the global economic system has added new plausibility to Marxist analysis, and David Harvey is certainly its most elegant and persuasive spokesperson . . . Harvey's [The Enigma of Capital] reminds us of the fundamental instability of the capitalist system, despite its remarkable innovations."--Tikkun
Table of Contents
1 The Disruption
2 Capital Assembled
3 Capital Goes to Work
4 Capital Goes to Market
5 Capital Evolves
6 The Geography of It All
7 Creative Destruction on the Land
8 What is to be Done? And Who is Going to Do It?
Sources and Further Reading