Moral cultures of capitalism

Smitten over the past week by a winter bug that has kept me tucked up on the sofa like a delicate Victorian lady, I’ve been reading Tony Judt’s [amazon_link id=”0434023086″ target=”_blank” ]When the Facts Change[/amazon_link]. This posthumously published collection of essays he wrote over 25 years has been edited by his wife Jennifer Homans, author herself of the terrific ballet history, [amazon_link id=”1862079501″ target=”_blank” ]Apollo’s Angels[/amazon_link]. I’ve long been a Judt admirer and this collection – only a few of which I’d read before – lives up to expectations. (And anyway, essays are about the right length for a convalescent.) An untimely and unimaginable death anyway (he suffered from Lou Gehrig’s Disease), the current state of Europe particularly makes one wish such a thoughtful historian of the continent were still alive to comment on Greece and the EU, on the long term effects of the financial crisis on the European ‘project’, on Russia and Ukraine.

[amazon_image id=”0434023086″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]When the Facts Change: Essays 1995 – 2010[/amazon_image]

Judt’s perspective was political rather than economic but his observations on the economy are always interesting. I liked this observation about globalization triumphalism, written in 2002:

It is a cardinal tenet of the prophets of globalization that the logic of economic efficiency must sweep all before it (a characteristics 19th century fallacy they share with Marxists). But that was how it seemed at the peak of the last great era of globalization, on the eve of World War I, when many observers likewise foresaw the decline of the nation-state and a coming age of international economic integration.

” What happened, of course, was something rather different.

He continued:

“The contingencies of domestic politics trumped the ‘laws’ of international economic behaviour, and they may do so again. Capitalism is indeed global in its reach, but its local forms have always been richly variable and they still are. This is because economic practices shape national institutions and legal norms and are shaped by them in their turn; they are deeply embedded in very different national and moral cultures.”

It has taken the centre of gravity in the economics profession a decade to get to the same perspective, and many economists are naturally prone to economic determinism.

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