This book is an impressive history of the origins and development of capitalism especially so when you read that it was published in 1994 prior to the bank crisis of 2007/8. The book presents case studies, ranging over 700 years, discussing the major centres of capitalist enterprise - Florence, Genoa, Dutch, England and US. Each of these identified as the hegemonic centres for their time. Arrighi explains their role in world trade, their relationship to the major powers of the day and offers a study of their rise and decline. Essentially in each case their activities developed from trade and manufacturer to financiers resulting in the hegemonic role passing to the next form of capitalism. Based on impressive studies of capitalist accumulation dating from Italian City states thru' to today. Arrighi has identified what he describes as the hegemonic centres from 15th century Florence, Venice and Genoa thru' to the 20th century UK and US. In doing so he reveals "cycles of accumulation" that indicate a pattern of development in each case that leads from trade and the manufacture of commodities to a "final" stage of finance capitalism. The "final" stage signals the period when due to a wide range of events the position of leading capitalist, state or nation, passes on to another group bringing new technologies, geographies, materials, markets or commodities to the world. The processes by which this occurs are varied but Arrighi points out the essence of the change which make for a general model that may be applicable to all "cycles of accumulation". This is particularly pertinent given that today we are living thru' a major crisis within Western capitalism with the ruling "hegemon", the US having exported its manufacturing capabilities to Mexico, Latin America, South East Asia and finally to China, while concentrating on Finance Capitalism. Has the US made that "final" move that allows the rise of a new "hegemon", all bets seem to be on China emerging as the new model for capitalism. Worryingly one not interested in covering itself with ideological declaration of "freedom" and "democracy". Given that this book was published in 1994, it looks like Arrighi highlighted the systemic nature of today crisis. The current version contains a 2009 postscript that posits likely scenarios by which the crisis will be "resolved". Read the book; appreciate the subtle complexities of capitalist development and of Arrighi's compelling insight.
I am no history buff, know very little history, and next to nothing about economic history (or economics).
I bought this book on an impulse (since the credit crunch I have attempted to gain some knowledge in the area) and read it during my holidays on the beach. And it was a bloody good read at that.
This is not a light weight book, but thanks to the author remains easy to read, to mull over, and to digest. What better for a beach. It gives a historic overview of economic world history. He approaches this by looking from high up above down at "systems" that make up the politco-economic activity and arise and disappear through "cycles". He explains what he thinks make up systems of economic power, chronicles their development through the ages from the middle ages to our times. Thus, the systems that pass this review are the Genoese, Dutch, British, and United States "hegemons". He analyses the rise, zenith, and decline of each era. He looks at the general, recurring features of these cycles, and , finally, attempts a forecast at what the future may have in store for us. In respect of the latter, he wonders whether the recurring pattern of cycles itself may be heading for a change, rather than that a new hegemon (possibly China and the East - though, perhaps due to time lapsed, the writer names Japan rather than China), will arise. He is clear, though, that the US are at the end of their cycle, the decline having started in the 70s.
In his analysis, he relies on a huge amount of literature, indexed, including such as Karl Marx. It is well researched, and the writer clearly has a massive amount of knowledge. But, and this is the beauty for me, you don't get bogged down during the reading (dare I say it - it read like a "page turner"), and afterward are left with a sweeping overarching type of understanding of history.
Brilliant exposition of the historical dialectic of the systemic cycles of capitalist development from the Italian city-states onwards. A real page-turner. What I really like about this book is that there is a wonderful synthesis between macro-systems theory and concrete historical illustration: enough historical illustration to make the ideas concrete without losing the line of argument. By contrast the pioneering achievement of Braudel in systems-based history (Civilization and Capitalism)projects a grand canvas of historical information that sometimes renders opaque the connective logic of his underlying thesis. Arrighi will be sorely missed. But this book is an enduring monument to his scholarship.