The History of Capitalism

The Moneylender and his Wife by Quentin Matsys, 1514

Capitalism is one of the great puzzles of the modern world. On the one hand, capitalist societies have seen levels of prosperity and freedom unknown to other types of societies – on the other hand, the dynamics of capitalism continue to generate inequalities, instabilities, and ecological challenges. How will this puzzle play out in the 21st century? How can the positive aspects of private enterprise best be aligned with social and ecological sustainability, and how will different types of capitalism cope with these challenges?

Such questions are increasingly debated around the globe. Within this context, the history of capitalism has emerged as a dynamic interdisciplinary field of study where scholars from the humanities and the social sciences are grabbling with questions such as: When, why and where did capitalism emerge? What exactly is capitalism, and how have different varieties been shaped by politics and culture?

The DIAS Program on the History of Capitalism is a series of lectures and workshops that brings such questions to the University of Southern Denmark. The program is developed and convened by DIAS Senior Fellow of Humanities Jeppe Nevers and Senior Fellow of Business and Social Sciences Paul Richard Sharp. Therefore the program springs from the intersection of history and economics, with the hope that it will develop into a truly interdisciplinary forum on campus.

The series will kick-off on August 25th 12:15-13:15 with a introductory lecture by Jeppe Nevers titled Historicizing Capitalism – Why and How?

Read more and sign up for this lecture here


Program

The following program on History of Capitalism features some truly outstanding researchers of high international distinction, starting with an online lecture by Professor Thomas Piketty in September. After this, each lecture will take place in the DIAS Auditorium from 12:15-13:15 and is followed by a workshop where we encourage people across faculties to engage in a varied dialogue about the history and future of capitalism.

September 15th, 11:15-12:15 (online): A Brief History of Equality: Lessons from Capital and Ideology by Thomas Piketty

Abstract

Inequality, slavery and violence played a major role in the early rise of western capitalism. In later stages of development, however, it is the movement toward more equality in income, wealth, education and status which made increased and shared prosperity possible, especially during the 1910-1980 period. In this talk, Thomas Piketty will offer a new perspective on the history of equality and draw lessons for the future.

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October 13th: Profit and Power in Late 18th Century British Capitalism by Mary O’Sullivan

Abstract

Every historian of capitalism, whatever meaning she ascribes to capitalism, needs to make sense of Britain’s industrialisation from the late 18th century. There is a long-standing tendency in economic history, exemplified recently in Robert Allen’s The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective, to analyse the economics of machine adoption based on a calculus of cost saving.

No one has proven more articulate in challenging this approach than Eric Hobsbawm, who cautioned us against the assumption that a capitalist economy has any inherent tendency to cost-saving or technological innovation, emphasising that “[i]t has a bias only towards profit”. He suggested the potential of a history of profit to understand the motivations for introducing machines and the consequences of their adoption.

In this lecture, I take up this idea by exploring the adoption of steam engines in one of the most rapidly growing industries in the British economy in the second half of the 18th century. I show that this approach offers new insights on the history of capitalism that have relevance well beyond the bounds of any particular industry.

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After the lecture you are invited to participate in Capitalism Workshop from 14:15-16:00 in DIAS seminar room, just left of the main entrance.


January 26th (online): How Social Spending Has Worked by Peter H. Lindert

Abstract

The book Making Social Spending Work (2021) aims at diverse audiences, including journalists, policy advisors, students, and scholars. The DIAS presentation focuses on a few of the book’s contributions at the scholarly frontier.

It selects these four frontier themes:

(1) The world’s greatest error in social policy has been the underfunding of mass education. The error dates back to the commercial revolution and the rise of fiscal capacity in the early modern era. I offer an update on the roles of autocracy and democracy in launching state schools.

(2) Comparative history now reveals the best and the worst approaches to parental school choice.

(3) Growth is often compromised by a bias toward the elderly and elites in social budgets, especially in the global South. Some advanced countries risk moving in the same direction, while others have remained faithful to pro-growth investment in the young and the poor.

(4) The current pandemic offers lessons for social policy that broadly reinforce the lessons from longer-run global history.

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February 23rd: The Great Divergence: What Have Twenty Years of Debate on the Origins of Modern Economic Growth (not) Taught Us? by Peer Vries

Abstract

How can we explain the wealth and poverty of nations? How, when, and why did a certain part of the world, up until quite recently mainly “the West”, become so much wealthier than the rest of the world? What are the causes of this “great divergence”, that according to most scholars began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and which is still the basis of so much global inequality? In my talk, I will summarize the debate on this topic, as it has been waged over the last twenty years since Kenneth Pomeranz published his The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy, and discuss what this question teaches us about capitalism.

Click here for more information and sign up

After the lecture you are invited to participate in Capitalism Workshop from 14:15-16:00 in DIAS seminar room, just left of the main entrance.


April 27th: Globalization and Varieties of Backlash by Kevin O’Rourke

Abstract

Globalization is neither new nor irreversible. There have been great waves of globalization in the past that have led to a backlash against international economic integration. The lecture will describe several of these episodes and discuss the parallels between the past, the present, and — perhaps — the future.

Click here for more information and sign up

After the lecture you are invited to participate in Capitalism Workshop from 14:15-16:00 in DIAS seminar room, just left of the main entrance.