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The Mystery Of Capital Paperback – 1 Nov 2001

4.4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan; New Ed edition (1 Nov. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0552999237
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552999236
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.8 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 45,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

"People with nothing to lose are trapped in the grubby basement of the pre-capitalist world." This is the nub of The Mystery of Capital. Read just that one sentence and you catch a glimpse of the reason why, as the author puts it, four-fifths of humanity lack the ability to turn dead assets into live capital.

A great deal of the power of legal property comes from the accountability it creates, argues Hernando de Soto, from the constraints it imposes, the rules it spawns and the sanctions it can apply. The lack of legal property thus explains why citizens in developed and former communist nations cannot make profitable contracts with strangers, cannot obtain credit, insurance or utilities services. Because they have no property to lose, they are only taken seriously as contracting parties by their immediate family and neighbours. To put it another way, while most western homeowners dream about paying off their mortgage, their counterparts in the less developed countries could transform their existence if they could only access such sums.

It's rare to come across a book about such an arcane subject that is simultaneously interesting and illuminating, entertaining and thought-provoking. The Mystery of Capital is all these and more. De Soto paints a procession of vivid pictures, from Cairo to the Wild West, from the Andes to the Urals. "The cities of the Third World and the former communist countries are teeming with entrepreneurs," he says, dismissing the notion that entrepreneurialism is the exclusive preserve of the west. "You cannot walk through a Middle Eastern market, hike up to a Latin American village or climb into a taxi in Moscow without someone trying to make a deal with you. The inhabitants of these countries possess talent, enthusiasm and an astonishing ability to wring a profit out of practically nothing."

In The Mystery of Capital, de Soto believes he points to a way in which capitalism can be used to help developing nations. In his vision, the poor are not the problem. They are the solution. --Brian Bollen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"'A hugely persuasive and important book, the more so because of the moving simplicity of its central idea'" (Daily Telegraph)

"'A crucial contribution. A new proposal for change that is valid for the whole world'" (Javier Perez de Cuellar, Ex Sect.General of the UN)

"'A very great book...powerful and completely convincing'" (Ronald Coase, Nobel Laureate in Economics)

"'One of the few new and genuinely promising approaches to overcoming poverty to come in a long time'" (Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History)

"'A revolutionary book...if the criterion is a capacity not only to change permanently the way we look at the world, but also to change the world itself, then there are good grounds for thinking that this book is surely a contender...thrillingly subvesive'" (Donald McIntyre Independent)

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4.4 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
In the past five years I've read a shade under a thousand books, and this is easily the most important of them. In it, Peruvian economist de Soto sets out to do nothing less than explain why capitalism has worked in the West and been more or less a total disaster in the Third World and former Communist states. This has long been a pivotal question for anyone interested in the world beyond their own back yard, and there have been plenty of attempts to explain it before (often in terms of history, geography, culture, race, etc.). However, de Soto's is the most compelling and logically argued answer I've come across. But it's not just me. I don't generally quote other reviews, but my general reaction echoes the most respected policy journals, newspapers, and magazines, who tend to repeat the same words in their reviews:"revolutionary", "provocative", "extraordinary", "convincing", "stunning", "powerful", "thoughtful". Perhaps my favorite line comes from the Toronto Globe and Mail: "De Soto demolishes the entire edifice of postwar development economics, and replaces it with the answers bright young people everywhere have been demanding." Of course readers (especially those on the left) will have to swallow a few basic premises from the very beginning, such as "Capitalism stands alone as the only feasible way to rationally organize a modern economy" and "As all plausible alternatives to capitalism have now evaporated, we are finally in a position to study capital dispassionately and carefully." And most importantly, "Capital is the force that raises the productivity of labor and creates the wealth of nations....Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This is a book of enormous insight and significance. The revolutionary potential of its central idea is so great that it could transform the world by bringing wealth to many people who are today considered poor. In spite of the fact that enthusiastic entrepreneurs all over the world are able to wring profits out of practically nothing, the wealth and fruits of capitalism continue to be primarily enjoyed by the West. Hernando de Soto argues that many of the poor work as hard as anyone else and already possess significant assets - both in savings, businesses, industries and houses - to make a success of capitalism. So why have they remained poor? What's lacking in many Third World and former communist countries is easy access to documentation - in particular the title deeds to property - as a visible sign that connects all these assets to the rest of the economy. In the West ownership is comparatively easily documented while in many other countries it can take years to obtain. "Thanks to this representational process, assets can lead an invisible, parallel life alongside their material existence. They can be used as collateral for credit." By this relatively simple means wealth is released - as it has been in the West but fails to be in the Third World and former communist countries. This is the essence of de Soto's insight which he deepens in chapter after chapter, drawing on the histories of a number of countries and the work of his team of researchers who had to go out amongst the poor before they could fully understand why capitalism is failing in so many countries. One small drawback of the book - if one can call it that - is that its thesis is developed somewhat exhaustively. But having said that, the conclusions in the final chapter were of such lucidity as to bring joy to this particular reader. Implementing de Soto's insight will bring enormous benefit to many people everywhere. Not implementing it will put us all in peril.
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I had high hopes of this book, since I'd come across mention of it in a number of different books read previously. In the event I was somewhat disappointed. It wasn't that I massively disagreed with the book. It was more that I fell asleep while reading it! The problem is that Mr de Soto seems to have been told that you only teach one thing at a time and repeat it in at least three different ways. This may be true talking in a classroom, but in a book it leads rapidly to terminal boredom.

The central theme of the book is simple - the reason while capitalism has not taken off outside the west is not that people are somehow lazy (quite to the contrary) but that legal and property systems do not allow them to use their property to obtain liquid capital. I don't disagree, but I think this is a one-dimensional view. I'm always dubious about single cause explanations for economic and social phenomena, and this idea is no exception. Yes, lack of legal property is an important part of the problem, but it's not the only one, and a more rounded view of the problems involved is needed to resolve them.
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Format: Paperback
Why Capitalism failed everywhere but succeeded in the West? This is a question that haunts many politicians and economists in 3rd world countries and in the West as well. Eventually the mystery became a quarrel between the two worlds, having the third claiming that Capitalism is just a hoax for the West to tap into their trifling fortunes, and the first claiming that 3rd world countries are failing to implement Capitalism efficiently.
The author of this book, Hernando De Soto, is siding with the second team in this dispute. And for that purpose he extends a very strong argument, which is that 3rd world countries failed to utilize the most basic element of Capitalism. And that would be Capital itself!
De Soto defines what he calls "Dead Capital" as property and real estate that is not fungible and can serve only in its most basic usage. Capital goes dead when the government fails to establish a real estate system that is accessible to the common public and is appropriate to the people and their property. What De Soto found after years of research and study is that in most developing and ex-communist countries the real estate systems are troublesome, drastically complicated, and out of touch with the real world. These systems nurtured a burgeoning extralegal style of living, where capital and businesses are not adherent to the legal systems of those countries. Instead, they work based on laws and regulations the people developed themselves among their social circles.
De Soto extends many shocking statistical information proving that 3rd world countries posses vast amounts of dead capital in their extralegal sectors.
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