Chatting to a philosopher friend yesterday about the state of the world in general and capitalism in particular, we concluded that a lot of the heavy analytical lifting on the changing structure of post-industrial economies had been done long ago by Daniel Bell and Peter Drucker. Bell’s The Coming of Post-Industrial Society was published in 1973 and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism in 1976, while Drucker’s key books were published even earlier - Technology, Management and Society came out in 1970, a year after The Age of Discontinuity, with its coinage of the term ‘the knowledge economy’.
I have on the shelf a 1970 collection of essays edited by Bell and Irving Kristol, Capitalism Today, in which Bell and Drucker again stand out for their prescience. Drucker writes about the development of mass global markets in capital and professional careers, alongside the mass market in products and services, and calls for economic theory to integrate the three in order to understand the global economy. Bell’s essay discusses the break between the dynamics of the economy and the cultural and moral foundations that had always made capitalism work until then; and the disjunction between the rational, technocratic decision-making of the economy and the “anti-cognitive and anti-intellectual currents” of modern culture.
Is it cheering or depressing that today’s deep problems are at least a generation old? It does feel like a return to the 1970s in so many ways, from maxi dresses in fashion and a punk revival, to exchange rate crises and the back-to-the-future macro debate of Keynesians versus monetarists.