A review of the headlines of the past decade seems to show that disasters are often part of capitalist systems: the high-tech bubble, the Enron fraud, the Madoff Ponzi scheme, the great housing bubble, massive lay-offs, and a widening income gap. Disenchantment with the market economy has reached the point that many even question capitalism itself.
Allan H. Meltzer disagrees, passionately and persuasively. Drawing on deep expertise as a financial historian and authority on economic theory, he provides a resounding answer to the question, "why capitalism?" Only capitalism, he writes, maximizes both growth and individual freedom. Unlike socialism, capitalism is adaptive, not rigid--private ownership of the means of production flourishes wherever it takes root, regardless of culture. Laws intended to tamper with its fundamental dynamics, such as those that redistribute wealth, fail. European countries boasting extensive welfare programs have not surpassed the more market-oriented United States. Capitalism does require a strong legal framework, Meltzer writes, and it does not solve all problems efficiently. But he finds that its problems stem from universal human weaknesses--such as dishonesty, venality, and expediency--which are not specific to capitalism. Along the way, he systematically analyzes the role of government, positing that regulations are static, but markets are dynamic, usually seeking ways to skirt the rules. Regulation is socially useful if it brings private costs into line with social costs (for example, the cost of taxes to hire policemen compared to that of the impact of rampant crime); if it doesn't, regulation simply invites circumvention.
Vigorously argued, sweeping in scope, Why Capitalism? reminds us of the fundamental vitality of the one economic system that has survived every challenge, and risen to dominate the globe.
Allan H. Meltzer is The Allan H. Meltzer University Professor of Political Economy at Carnegie Mellon University. He is the author of A History of the Federal Reserve, Vols. 1 and 2.
"A concise alternative to current economic policies for those who look with suspicion at the writings of economists and financial specialists...A lively, politically challenging contribution to a developing discussion on how to change international monetary arrangements." --Kirkus Reviews
"Allan Meltzer's Why Capitalism is a thoughtful, historically-based analysis of the roles of government and free markets in a democratic society. Meltzer has thought deeply about the workings of both and has a good sense of which functions each best can be trusted to serve. His analysis of financial regulation in general and of the Dodd-Frank bill in particular is the best I have seen." --Robert Lucas, University of Chicago, 1995 Nobel laureate in Economics
"If you want a realpolitik view of the world, Meltzer's your guy. You know right away that you are in for quite a ride when, in the introduction, he acknowledges the range of his influences, from Immanuel Kant (for example, human nature as 'crooked timber') to Karl Popper to Friedrich Hayek, and to Milton Friedman, among others. He takes you back in time and sketches from a broad perspective the old battle of capitalism versus communism and socialism, and extols the genius of the freedom of capitalism. For those interested in recounting the perils of government regulation and failed attempts at income distribution, it's a treasure, especially in the last chapter. There, the author describes the role of the Federal Reserve, particularly in moderating inflation, Meltzer's specialty."--Journal of Environmental Investing
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