Finance and the Soul

“The Federal Reserve is not your friend,” writes Judy Shelton in The Weekly Standard . Its policies encourage “unjustified risks in pursuit of monetary gain,” give incentives for “speculative conniving instead of virtuous endeavor,” offers reasons to borrow . . . . Continue Reading »

Before Economics

“None of our Western [economic] distinctions was completely absent in antiquity,” writes Sitta van Reden near the end of her Exchange in Ancient Greece (218). Yet, because of a different configuration of society the distinctions we take for granted were not so ingrained: “Rigid . . . . Continue Reading »

Obligation to receive?

Marcel Mauss famously argued that in archaic societies, giving was guided by three imperatives - the obligation to give, to receive, to repay. Except for the exceptions. Like Jacob and Esau: On his return from Haran, Jacob sends gifts ahead to pacify Esau’s wrath and Esau receives. When Esau . . . . Continue Reading »

State-free economy?

I argued earlier this week that, as a matter of historical fact, Western economies have not been state-free zones. My question here is more theoretical and general: Is it even possible to have a state-free economy? Yes, at a small scale, in, say, a tribal economy. But then in a tribal economy, . . . . Continue Reading »

Inalienable gifts?

David Cheal ( The Gift Economy ) offers a deft critique of Mauss’s and C.A. Gregory’s theories of gift. The central rebuttal is to point to the fairly obvious fact that giving continues to occupy a large place in modern societies. Gift-giving is big business, as that pile of Christmas . . . . Continue Reading »

Imagining capital

What sets Western economies apart, Hernando de Soto argued in The Mystery of Capital , is not sheer physical stuff. One can have a lot of stuff without having capital. What makes it productive as capital are two “non-economic” factors. The first is imagination: “Capital, like . . . . Continue Reading »

Capitalism and its Contradictions

A friend asked me to clarify some comments I made about capitalism in my First Things piece last Friday. Thinking there may be wider interest in the question, I offer a revised version of my answer to him. As a starting point, let me clarify that the term “capitalism” here refers to the . . . . Continue Reading »

Maybe not Coined Liberty

How did reciprocal economies become modern economies, dominated so thoroughly by the market? Hans van Wees ( Reciprocity in Ancient Greece , 48) says we don’t really know, and adds that “the introduction of money . . . turns out not to make as much difference as one might have . . . . Continue Reading »