Longtime UCLA historian Joyce Appleby explores the evolution of contemporary economic institutions in The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism. Book Review No. 26 suggests that readers put aside all their priors (historian? relentless? capitalism?) and read and understand the book. Turn to page 77 on primitive accumulation. "The countryside's most salient division became that between those who engaged in improvements and those who didn't." In case readers didn't get the message, the next paragraph reads "These may sound like innocuous statements, but they challenge the Marxist position that the conversion of agriculture from primitive reproduction to enhanced productivity began with farsighted landlords who coerced their tenants into commercial leases." No surprise to readers of The Lever of Riches or How The West Grew Rich or Human Action, but how many history students, let alone casual readers, have even a passing familiarity with works that are obscure or recondite even to working economists? Likewise, regular Cold Spring Shops readers get that Complex Adaptive Systems Do What They Darn Well Please. It's encouraging to see a discussion of The Great Depression that notes (p. 279), "[I]n a free market economy, though some people have much more power than others, no one is in charge. All the material aspects of the economy ... rely on personal and institutional choices." Thus "an unforeseen development is usually in the offing." Let nobody misinterpret Relentless Revolution as a pro-capitalist tract. The critics, whether of a Marxist, Third-World-o-philic, or religious bent, receive a judicious hearing. And the tensions between the libertarian and religious members of the Republican coalition have a long and intellectually serious pedigree.
(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)