Category: Historical perspective

Vice or Virtue? Commercial Politeness according to Eighteenth-Century Thinkers

Commercial society as we know it today first arose in the eighteenth century. ‘Politeness’ was a buzzword in the fierce debate that was held on the newly arisen society’s moral (de)merits. Rousseau and Ferguson asked challenging questions about the conditions of political liberty, and the difficulty of, and potential limits to establishing a sincere, meaningful cosmopolitan moral culture. These questions still demand our attention, says Rudmer Bijlsma.

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2008: A Retrospective on the Financial Crisis

Before 2008, mainstream economics thought a global economic crisis on the scale of the Great Depression was impossible. Then Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. A decade later, in a collection of articles, INET looks back at the causes of the global crisis in the financial markets, and what policymakers—and economists—must change to prevent another one.

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What Did Max Weber Mean by the ‘Spirit’ of Capitalism?

“Max Weber’s famous text The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) is surely one of the most misunderstood of all the canonical works regularly taught, mangled and revered in universities across the globe. This is not to say that teachers and students are stupid, but that this is an exceptionally compact text that ranges across a very broad subject area, written by an out-and-out intellectual at the top of his game.”

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The Nostalgia for Socialism in the Age of Consumerism

“[…] neither the nostalgic socialists nor their critics inspire what history normally should: A critical perspective, not just on the past, but on the present too. If socialism only exists as a marketplace mythology, how can it serve as an alternative lens through which to understand present conditions?”

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The True Founders of Economics: The School of Salamanca

“Students of free enterprise usually trace the origins of pro-market thinking to Scottish professor Adam Smith (1723-90). […] The real founders of economic science actually wrote hundreds of years before Smith. They were not economists as such, but moral theologians, trained in the tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas, and they came to be known collectively as the Late Scholastics. These men, most of whom taught in Spain, were at least as pro-free market as the Scottish tradition came to be much later. Plus, their theoretical foundation was even more solid: they anticipated the theories of value and price of the “marginalists” of late-nineteenth-century Austria.”

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Capitalism Was Born in Iraq and Syria, Not Invented by Adam Smith

“Far from being a recent innovation, enterprises, banks, advanced commercial practices and free markets evolved some 4,000 years ago in the countries we today know as Iraq and Syria. A better understanding of the story of capitalism is needed; since it shows us how important markets have been for human progress as well as how universal the link between development and market policy is across different societies.”

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Tulip Mania: The Classic Story of a Dutch Financial Bubble is Mostly Wrong

“Right now, it’s Bitcoin. But in the past we’ve had dotcom stocks, the 1929 crash, 19th-century railways and the South Sea Bubble of 1720. All these were compared by contemporaries to ‘tulip mania’, the Dutch financial craze for tulip bulbs in the 1630s. Bitcoin, according some sceptics, is ‘tulip mania 2.0’. Why this lasting fixation on tulip mania? It certainly makes an exciting story, one that has become a byword for insanity in the markets. […] Tulip mania was irrational, the story goes. […] My years of research in Dutch archives while working on a book, Tulipmania: Money, Honor and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age, told me a different story.”

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What Made Europe Rich?

“If you were born 500 years ago, 1,000 years ago, or 1,500 years ago, the odds are overwhelming that you would have endured a very short and difficult life, one that was characterized by unimaginable poverty. But then, as explained in short videos by Professors Deirdre McCloskey and Don Boudreaux, the world suddenly became much richer starting a few hundred years ago. And Western Europe led the way. But why?”

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