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The Enigma of Capital: And the Crises of Capitalism Paperback – 14 Apr 2011
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A lucid and penetrating account of how the power of capital shapes our world (Andrew Gamble Independent - Book of the Week)
A well-timed call for the overthrow of capitalism ... elegant ... entertainingly swashbuckling (John Gapper Financial Times)
Radical sociologist David Harvey explains how capitalism came to dominate the world, why it resulted in the current financial crisis - and why it's time for a changeSee all Product description
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Capital is the lifeblood that flows through the body politic of all capitalist societies. Capital is a limitless process in which money is perpetually sent in search of more money via commerce, rent, property rights, royalties, financial trading etc.
Capitalism is founded on the individual freedom to engage in speculative money-making activities.
In order to explain the capital flows the author uses seven activity spheres and sees six potential barriers. They concern social relations (ex. labor), the environment (ex. natural limits), consumption (ex. lack of demand), money (ex. initial capital), technologies (ex. innovation), mentalities (ex. religion) and demography (ex. population explosion).
Crises are an essential part of the history of capitalism. The latest one was a financial tsunami propelled by neoliberal policies (a complete deregulation of all financial markets and institutions).
The author defines rightly neoliberalism as a successful class project legitimizing draconian policies designed to restore capitalist class power. The capitalists knew that they could bet the whole shop, because they had a guarantee that the government (controlled by them) would bail them out with tax-payer's money if the speculations went wrong (socialize the risks). A monstrous bail-out was needed, but it resulted in a further consolidation of capitalist class power (only 5 major US banks survived).
The irrationality of capitalism is blatantly visible in the coexistence of surplus capital and surplus labor, in the eyes of billions of people living in abject conditions and in the environmental degradation. The author's solutions, however, are partly very utopian. In addition to respect for nature and true democracy (no concentration of the political, judicial, military and media powers in a few hands), his hopes rest on the individual: radical egalitarianism in social and labor relations, self-realization in service to others (Kropotkin revisited) and the giving-up of daily comforts and rights.
Besides bibliographical errors, the author's appreciation of Mao's China is way of the mark. Mao's barefoot `doctors' had to learn medical practice on the spot (but not on him!) without any professional education (N. Cheng: Life and Death in Shanghai). Julia Lovell remarked very perspicaciously that Deng Xiaoping had clearly understood that the only chance for the Chinese CP to stay in power was to elevate drastically the living standard of the population and that by any means. The color of the cat was of no importance.
As nearly always with Marxist intellectuals, D. Harvey doesn't bother about the nature of the individual, the core of all societies, which are themselves only the sum of its members, nothing less, but also nothing more. Power (= survival) is an essential, dominating factor for any individual, because those who have it, live longer than those without it.
Before reading this book, I highly recommend a short introduction to capitalism and its dynamics by F. Braudel: 'Afterthoughts on Material Civilization and Capitalism'.
David Harvey is in no way a member of the group of intellectuals who sold their soul to the clique actually in power. His vision is genuine and to the point, but too optimistic concerning the nature of the individual.
This book is a must read for all those who are looking for serious solutions for the world's problems, even if today these solutions seem only dreams.
Harvey deals with the current economic crisis in chapter one and gives a clear, concise account of what went wrong and why.
As for the current crisis, that is pretty much it in this book. What Harvey is concerned with is the fact that the current crisis is just the latest of many and Harvey is most concerned with demonstrating that crises are innate and necessary to capitalism.
Harvey presents his re-working and re-theorising of Marx's analysis of 'Capital' to show how capitalism uses crises to reform, renew and revitalise itself. This Harvey accomplishes brilliantly. Harvey explains complex ideas in an easy to understand way.
Harvey theorises that capitalism may have reached a point where it cannot get over crisis and get back to a compound growth rate of 3% PA as the amount of capital that needs to be invested is simply too huge. Hence the growth of the financial sector and financial crises.
This leads to the final section on what the Left should do to tackle the crisis. For capitalism can solve it's problems as long as it makes people pay the price of it's crises: lost jobs, lost pensions, destroyed environment, wrecked public services and vast amounts of capital destroyed in wars.
Harvey argues for a uniting of the Left across a broad range of struggles and across the globe. A necessary yet difficult task. Harvey's focus seems to be to look beyond the traditional labour movements which seems to contradict many of his arguments about how capitalism works - Harvey doesn't seem to see the working class as central to a socialist challenge to capitalism. That may prove contentious. Harvey's book deserves to be widely read and a focus for debates on the Left as to how to respond to the current crisis.
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