tv Jonathan Levy Ages of American Capitalism CSPAN August 11, 2021 4:05pm-5:06pm EDT
trips to the united states in 1842 and 1867. >> author on this episode of book note plus listen at c-span.org/podcast or wherever you get your podcast. ♪♪ >> it's my distinct pleasure to welcome you all to the official launch of my colleague jonathan levy's new book, asians of american. just out with penguin rank and rented house penguin random house. he authors a new perspective on american political economy, american capitalism teaches familiar landmarks of american history in new ways. settlements, market revolution, industrialization, the great
depression, the new deal, localization and u.s. history and many more, the stages of american economics. the age of capitol, the age of control and the age of chaos. we find and john spoke, these frameworks including the concept of capitol itself following the lead of an earlier generation defining the psychological process and monetary evaluation. capitol not a thing but a process through which it's invested with the value and the capacity to yield a future and profit but imagine of the history of capitalism is just
the beginning. he also reconsiders the attitudes that drive evaluation, not just profit margin but shifting motivations and shaping evaluation around ambition, a white man's privateering republic to design in the heavy industry, the workingmen democracy, utopia and so on. all of these turn a mixture of competence and fear about what the future will bring. john introduces us to the mechanisms driving economic development in each american capitalism. multipliers of market expansion and productivity growth in the age of commerce. the investment multipliers sustained investments of the age of capital.
the multipliers controlling the macroeconomy of the age of control and finally erotic fixation on the price appreciation in the age of chaos. all of these new concepts, the liquidity and mixed impulses toward liquid investment are what promote or hinder genuine economic development, winding path toward economic place. mentioning these things, i have of course barely scratched the surface and runs to 900 pages and theoretically ambitious historically narrative so all of this is just to say john spoke will give us plenty to discuss over the next hour. i will extend back to today's event. any to introduce our speaker and
i have a word from our sponsors and i and with a playful mark about today's event. jonathan is professor of u.s. history fundamentals social and the college and university of chicago but he's also chair of the society program and senior fellow. his book was the fortitude, emerging world of capitalism in america in 2012. in addition to his new book, john has written widely in recent years on several public and political economies including corporation, profit philanthropy psychological capital evaluation. she discussed his new book, he's joined by professor, jeremy and j knowles professor of hartford university, director of the
joint center history and economics, and in paris. her books include economic sentiments in the enlightenment in 2001. most recently in history the story of a family in the century just this year. now a word from our sponsors. today's event is presented by the chicago center for contemporary theory in chicago cosponsored by the joint center of history and economics at harvard university as well as the bookstore and the society program of the university of chicago to all those sponsors of today's event we give our thanks. finally, a remark about format. professor will have open
comments on john's book to which john will respond in turn and the idea is a conversation will unfold from there. i will be taking questions from our audience which you can post in the q&a on the platform. i plan to inject these questions into the conversation to proceed so had questions to the queue and day books whenever you wish from now on and i'll try to follow into the conversation best i can. we will wrap up 1:00 p.m. central time or in 53 minutes from now. with that, i will hand over to professor. >> thank you very much and it is a real pleasure to be here. i have thousands of questions
and of going to limit myself but i want to start by saying something about the ages of american capitalism as a book and literary genre or style. you've done something extraordinarily new which is to write a book which is political in which political history economic history really are the same thing. this is a work in which social history, cultural history, high and low economic ideas are recounted in the same story but the integration of the political and economic so often described in theory, so rarely attempted is even more difficult but it really does work in the book. it works in familiar history of
hamilton, jefferson and in the history of the reagan administration, it works in the history of houston. these episodes in the book are truly political history and economic history. the comments on the cover of the book, the book is made implausible. it's not, it's true. so the questions, the book in many ways is the institutions, municipal and national. as written in the outset, capital is the process by which illegal asset is value.
can you tell us about this approach engaging so systematically which does seem to be exceptionally promising for economic history, where for example in the narrative has your study of tax codes or other legal changes seem particularly important to the story? so the second question is in relation about the never ending conflict or liquidity and investment. i wonder if you could say more about whether this really is never ending. he finished the book, as you say at the end in mid june, 2020 and you outline possibility of
change in the structure of investment. uc recently discussed investments in material and material infrastructure as a change? this i'm afraid, is a very melancholy note on which to end and what would be the consequences of an endearing change toward liquidity, a long-term shift toward long-term, what is the never ending conflict had been won by the short-term? those are my two questions and a look forward to hearing you. >> let me start by saying thank you to everyone in the audience and of course thank you to the
sponsors of the event everybody who helped organize it and thank you to emma and noel. when i thought about two people to dragon to doing this, you are the first people i thought of in part because while the book is long or at least not too short, a few years ago when i was tasked with finishing it i have the benefit of visiting the joint center for history economics at harvard and that was the place where the book finally came into shape and hospitable and welcoming the community there and finally, sink thank you to joel since he came to the university he spent a benefit to our community and to me he spent remarkable to have his fast knowledge on these subjects to draw upon in finishing the book so thank you
both. let me try to address the questions that emma brought up. of course they are related first on the cap process and relationship to the law and institution and politics and second on the third argument of the book about conflict between liquidity and long-term investment and what that conflict is never ending and what it would mean to transcend it. on a first issue, as joel mentioned for me as a story of capitalism and its notoriously a vast concept, difficult to define precisely, there is no cap common definition to determine, a lot of economic historians from a good reason to stay away from it but my work is
central and i think that any approach to understanding capitalism has to put capital at its center so this let me in doing the research to the book thinking to engage with an old tradition in capital theory that joel mentioned, there are others, a tradition that goes back to the early 20th century and capital not as a thing or factor of production as an investable asset so the book is organized around a sequence or ages in which different assets become more or less prominent. clearly central to that process of investing in assets and returns and how the motion becomes central to defining the american and economic life, i
think what a capitalistic economy is and how it works is the law. i'll mention two or three aspects to which that's prominent and there might be questions or comments to discuss, first is corporation and the degree to which the corporate enterprise shaped american economic life over time, there's trajectories within that prominent in the book, first is the rise of corporation defined by its relationship to the process and argue that happens in the 19 the 19th century up as expressions of sovereignty, across the 19th century corporations become defined more as private actors in the relationship and profit-making there's two dimensions market for-profit corporations but also for
nonprofit corporations in the 19th century so philanthropic and nonprofit are central to the narrative the 19th reason i wanted to pull out this dread having to do with corporation as it relates to the first points, made which are so flattered to hear her say that, the political and economic in the book and of course i wouldn't say it's easy but at least easy to say that politics often shape economics and economic often shape politics but how do you demonstrate that historical narrative analytically? corporation is one way to do it because it's always been a mix of public and private actor in you can't disentangle politics from the enterprise sore one way
to organize that integration is to narrate unfolding american history which is a lot more to say about that and i'm sure we might come back to that topic. the second part on august business about liquidity preference and investment is it is a central argument of the book but also one of the books narrative structure, capital didn't change over time, slaves, financial assets, factories develop a transformation is the transformation on the one hand is money and money is a safe stored value liquid asset providing more means for investment to move into different assets and create
different political economic regimes of investment but i think it defines different ages of american capitalism over time. at the same time there is a contradiction in a paradox that money as a liquid store value prevents capital from moving into productive forms of investment. production in the sense of production what you think of, labor, enterprise production but also ways in which capital moves out into the environment, into the landscape and social relation to order, fix and structure economic life but also social life and cultural life more generally so there is this tension in the book and i do invoke changes general thesis that all things being equal, voters of wealth prefer liquidity. there's different ways you can
get liquidity as an owner of wealth, you can stuff cash under the mattress, leading to no production, no investment whatsoever or you could invest in financial securities that are speculative, it can create profits and returns without necessarily fixing capital out in the world long-term. the best thing you can do is you can get it invested assets that give you both. it gives you a safe store value, protection against risk and loss but also opportunity to profit. that is sort of capital and it's basically the fantasy that american political economy has been largely organized around the 1980s, that's the last age
of chaos and one reason why we could have low rate of long-term productive investment, why we have leveraged finance which predominates a larger set in the american economy still today and i think the book and the last chapter about the great recession and failure of the obama administration to change that, to redirect investment in the american economy on a different path. the last question which is the most important question but also the most difficult to answer is what it means to transcend that contradiction and moved to a new order of long-term investment.
i have a number of thoughts about that, maybe i will limit myself to three and perhaps we can talk about that or anything else. first, it's possible. it is certainly possible. he looked back to the third age of the book, the age of control, united states army emerges out of the great depression in large part during the war in which the state through programs of public investment but once again to refer corporation through public corporations like destruction of finance book but public and private means but the state forces long-term productive investment in the context of the war and coming out of the work largely because pressures put by organized labor although it is complicated, certainly postwar generation of long-term fixed
capsule investment can be done from their historical examples to demonstrate that. with that said, i think one of, we could talk about others but i guess i will say in the book from one of the problems with this training as i see it, i'm sure there are others i haven't thought about, it indicates long-term investment goods and effects certainly not the case. the idea i guess restated better than i put in the book, it prevents anything from happening but just because something happens doesn't mean we have to like it. we could think of american slavery, long-term expansion of the british empire premised on
long-term imperial economic project rooted in black enslavement so tomorrow there is obviously quite negative from our view so the question becomes what then, it's not just that you have to create long-term investment but it has to be one that we like and i guess i will say my time at harvard i think was opening my eyes to a lot of these issues. i think one would have to think about the environment and about climate change and although it is muted in the book, i think there is an argument in the book that the massive long-term investment programs one would need to cope with climate change let alone mitigate climate change are different private future you're not going to get
it from private forms of investment to these preferences the book spends so much time describing so that is one place i show and second, and then i will stop, one of the one of the arguments in the book across the 20th century that i think does maybe help us think about the present moment to some degree is the argument about income politics and over the 20th century especially since the new deal when it comes to particularly policies of redistribution that american political economy focuses on income, income support subsidy things like social security and american labor law, another
important dimension of the law pretty much is fixated on bargaining over the wage as opposed to including the voice of organized labor into production decisions in other countries so there is a focus on the income side in american politics and not much focus on the capital side. of course the capital side is where all of these dynamic investment liquidity preference for long-term, short-term play out so thinking about the degree to which we've seen a large piece from the biden administration mostly focused on income support type policies which i would support spending enough good thing but nonetheless there are policies that don't touch capital
investment, they don't touch the prerogative determine long-term patterns of investment. i think that is where the book suggests the book politically is the most important site or at least there's no site more important than it. i think i was enough, i'll stop there and i am curious where the conversation goes from here. >> maybe i'll pick up on what you said about climate change because one of the things that's so fascinating in your work, houston is the way you show decisions that seem short and
inconsequential about the absence of zoning, about land use, about warehouses and bills and corresponding. of course there is long-term decisions but they are sort of long-term systematic investment decisions and i think what comes so clearly from your work on houston is the extent to which cumulatively these decisions intertwine municipal regulation or lack of regulation that's created a patent of energy use and energy dependence, extremely difficult to reverse and i
wonder whether the weightless economy of only short-term, how that looks from environmental and climate change. >> thank you for the opportunity to talk about this section which is one of the closest to my heart being a native houstonian and in the last part of the book it appears in the chapter on the 1970s but i try to use houston as an emblematic site to make sense of postindustrial or at least service oriented city. i do this, to, very much a stock of chicago as an emblematic industrial city in the age of
capital to get a sense of texture of life on the ground within these different arrows and i guess what drew me houston was precisely the climate narrative, it is very striking to think that the city in which climate change becomes known that the fastest growing on many metrics, if not all, one of the fastest growing cities in the united states has been houston, a city completely premised upon fossil fuel energy regime in part because of the role of houston and global oil extraction services but also because of the particular kind of spending that is, this
complete and utter dependence upon automobile and other reasons as well, air conditioning also comes to mind. so you have a city growing at the same time in which the problem the city itself expresses his and being addressed so on one hand one way to think about long-term historically aesthetics nothing but an accumulation of short-term and i think history is charter, it provides an opportunity to look back over long piece of time to see what the consequences long-term decisions are but second, this is what happens without long-term vision in our politics to russell with problem. one more thing about the law suggested about zoning, the law
is central because if you look at houston and recent floods, it had discourse about climate change cities growth, it's a discourse about property, property rights for developers property rights for individual homeowners, respect to private insurance and fema, that's where debate in houston is located. at scale locks or inhibits addressing the fundamental problems houston has generated. one more thing, but i like the city having been bent and it's an interesting place to see not only these problems related to climate change but also the social possibilities of postindustrial order of social
life tied to services and how there are possibilities they should make it see the potential of present economic movement as opposed to doing the last thing we should do which is nostalgic or postwar society for industrial society, nostalgic for the past and i think houston doesn't have that path you have to look at it and analyze it and think about it, you can't think on those frames about the american economy, you have to forward and think about what can be imagined. >> the statistics human -- you write about in the book. >> the question of nostalgia and climate change and long-term investment, you have a question from charles peterson if you're
around long-term investment, is the best solution for climate change one way of putting your argument be where climate change is the problem in the 1950s and new institutions could have dealt with the issue in other words, the problem with addressing climate change is not the shareholder revolution, if that makes sense. that does seem to speak to the fact that your book is on track about maybe directing capital into the right channels to get socially beneficial outcomes and collectively attractive outcomes, hold you say about this idea of climate change came up in the 50s? >> hello, thank you for the question, charles. i have a lot to say about that. let me start, the chapter in the book and then that will get us
to the new deal, eventually i hope but i guess the chapter for me, while i like most personally, what is most important for figuring out what the book is about is a chapter, i think it is chapter five, it is. it comes in the first part of the book, it is a cultural intellectual street debate about commerce talks about barnum and the rise of the commercial spectacle dealing with critiques of commerce and then has a final section on melville's novel, an indirect answer to the question but i promise i'll get there. one of the chapter pieces tries to do is present favorably melville's moral argument about capitalism and commerce which is
capitalism and promise need to be appropriated toward better and not completely rejecting for moral reasons. in the chapter, it's the romantic critics of the market or predict of the corrosive nature of the market always trying to push it upon the things that spoil in the things that are value the most. let's think of this user oriented uncertain motion that central capitalism, think about the ways we can appropriated, shape it and direct it and of course that is not the argument, you can find that certainly but i think that is the moral perspective on the book and liquidity mumbo-jumbo analytic device that works in unison with it so joel is right, it's not
anticapitalist moral critique or at least not in the book and actually one think that's not in the book that could have been our those voices in the american past that did launch that kind of critique so that kind of took me to the new deal so we knew about climate change, the new deal has done it itself? in my interpretation of the deal and the book suggests the answer is no. the chapter in the book, i don't know the number myself but there's a chapter in the book title the postwar hinge that deals with extended argument made by many scholars recently about how the new deal or what the deal was and what the economic settlement was was not secured until after you come out
of the war, the general strike, the rise of the cold war, battles between shareholders and industrial managers general motors and i make the argument coming out of the war the new deal needs far too much investment power in the hands of private capital, their contingent regions coming out of the war to organize labor in the manufacturing for why there is a two decade. in which there are benefits of long-term, productivity and wages etc. but i see the new deal someone as a faded tragedy in the 1970s and 80s, the
breakup of the deal order can be traced back the new deal itself so therefore when i want a long-term investment regime you need for climate change as well as other political and moral problems, i don't think the new deal with -- there is a history that forms that question probably going back to that is the way to go. >> if i could ask a brief question, i think about the four ages you described, would it be fair to say liquids long-term investment made in the american political economy have followed war and social upheaval so we have a period of war and also a.
after world war ii and one question would be is it take the rendering of social carbon to create the commitment for long-term investment or is that relationship between war and longer-term commitment to investment contingent? >> is a great question. i think you're right, he did say in the late 1930s that the only social experiment whatever proof my argument about investment multiplier for the complete, lack of any need for their ever to be a depression would come about in war in world war ii
does not. i guess the link there, i could think of two reasons, first there is a target for long-term investment which is warmaking, producing weapons of war and that makes it easier if you have a goal in mind and the second thing has to do with money and credit and finance and go back to where we started capital in one of the things the book does try to do is integrate money and credit, aspects excluded from economic understandings of capital for purposes of analysis and things like that and think about the war is the need to fight the war get a relaxing of
money and relaxing of credit during world war ii have to defend the treasury supporting possibility credit finance know what you want to finance more production expensive and coming out, the legacy of those moments of rupture along the lines you suggested. both moments the warmth tightening credit, a return old standard model world war ii eventually treasury report with monetary policy and setting on
inflation you are right to be pointing both moments and it does suggest options, if not more has to do with an order to what we are talking about and i think we're all waiting to see to see what : who will or will not be in that kind of rupture. we thought the financial crisis wasn't that kind of rupture and it was not. of course we are talking about covid but i think there is also with trump in that moment and political rupture perhaps it might prompt reckoning but these
are the questions we have for the future. >> we have a number of questions but i want to give professor a chance to the discussion if you would like to say something. >> see the question from january which is very much on this so maybe you could ask that get john's response. >> there are a number of questions about climate change, the question is having trust been listening to mccarthy on the webinar, it seems the administration does me to shape the investment on a long-term basis. do you think this can succeed?
>> sure. i guess the short answer to the question. there is no reason why you couldn't do this. i guess we are waiting to see what will happen, it does seemed like one of the things that would be necessary to see this transformation achieved by the biden administration given the people in the administration are out there does seem to be on like five or ten years ago, support from corporate interest to do something to shape the problem and it does seemed like some of the investment necessary to do it, to get these items from the private sector so that is good but the other side of it, on the public side maybe
this is one thing in the book but it is striking when you go back to look at 2008 and the chapter on the great recession is critical of the obama administration but in fairness, i think as you say that there is not that much on the shelf from the left thinking about transforming the economy unlike fdr who, unlike obama, to his benefit was no intellectual but nonetheless when fdr clamped to office in 1932, there are generations of ideas on the economy from progressives and a
lot of the ideas are at the state level so one of the things in the story, is hard to characterize because of the politics, it's so overwhelming, it can be difficult to characterize it ideologically. the obama administration was not in the position, not even close. i think with biden, the biden administration regardless of biden himself as a politician where he would align on this spectrum, the biden administration very much, since 2008 there's been a decade of history, economic history, history of capitalism, lots of new debates and thoughts about public investment, public investment trust, regional trust, all kinds of different
mechanisms for publicly mobilizing finance investment toward public goals and public and. you have to wait on a lot of the legislation the biden administration is planning, promising not to mention passing legislation, executing it but since we have hit some more depressing notes in our conversation, i think there are reasons at this moment to think of full of possibilities for doing new things, as recently as ten or 12 years ago in the midst of a financial crisis the great depression, i think we are politically and also intellectually unimaginable so that would be my response to that question.
>> the only thing i would add to that is the so-called in material structure proposals that the investment in things that aren't bridges and roads, the kind of new and promising rural broadband, it is a very big deal and so is the infrastructure of daycare and widespread public health and you only think of india today to see how absence of widely diffused system of public health have the most extraordinary long-term consequences.
>> john, i wonder if i could take it back to where professor began and ask you about how you decided the way in which the principal, there are a number of questions to ask about, approaches, trying to distinguish yourself from the national framing so i find it uncontroversial to say they are anyways to write this, focusing on the labor process physical organization, consumers and a bunch of issues and focus on investment and evaluation and it's interesting to hear your talk about focusing on back in economic thinking breath and two canes. the question of national, a book
about capitalism in america rather than american capitalism. is there an american variance unique to the united states? i wonder if you put how you decided on this is. >> i think as far as it goes, the two big problems that i saw myself facing which is the framework i think to some degree helps address in a way that is satisfactory historically, the first is where to begin and i think given a synthesis relying upon secondary literature, the work on early modern colonial.
has been so strong the work on the british empire, the work on commercial society in the atlantic world, impotence of slavery in these processes as well and work on indigenous history so how to capture that so the first is maybe the most are compared to what usc elsewhere and across from reassertion english imperial control over america goes through american civil war in 1860 and argues geopolitics and space related to commerce is the central dynamic so the american revolution as prominent as
relate somewhat to the global question mark the framework for the first is really empire rise of jefferson empire liberty and creation of the american republic so the second big problem is what you do with more recent stuff that is really challenging, how do you not have the narrative that seems to be culminating post-world war ii industrial event postindustrial something or other financial aviation off of that baseline, you come up a structure that can explain post- 1980 american economy and what it looks like. it makes as much sense as the industrial economy you wouldn't
want to print one or the other so the definition of capital and the investment i think precise enough history but also suggests that these errors and that no one or the other is the baseline upon which the judge of the others. >> in writing the book, global transnational history have remained, some of the more exciting sites historical profession so to do national history definitely felt like something that goes against the grain somewhat, i don't have a critique of global or transnational history to justify the choices i make to offer and i do think that i did want
politics central and aspired an attempt the economic that emma was talking about earlier. the national seal file means, the national scale doesn't have to be the scale that occurs, there are other scales in the book that i tried to play out, empires. both in terms of role american empire and the context of western settlement expansion and more recently american global economic world war ii is another federal book global cities like houston, corporations and others but nonetheless, the national scale is important political economics and that is the best answer i can give. american capitalism, capitalism
in america, a provocative question and i think capitalism in america would be just as good. >> we are coming to the end of our time but john said before and that nobody would say anything in it, it's a fantastic discussion in the chat and there is your next book outline and discussed and the other thing i want to say in this expectation, something i do want to say very clearly to people reading the
if there's anything you would like to add to that. >> i guess my career potentially moves in the opposite direction but one of the goals that i had in the book and one of the reasons why the center that emma directs which is such a hostile place to put this book together i think it's idiosyncratic to attempt attend that emigrating history and economics. emmett -- economics have a certain vintage in a certain time and i think one of -- the kind of work that i do one of the more unfortunate things that i often see our knee-jerk reactions made by historians against work done by economists
in taking history really seriously in their work and i think that expectations has a checkered history and economic thought from eden through lucas and so on and if the category is coming out that i think has not been very prominent outside of economics may be some political science. but i think it's an example of an analysis that has traction in economics but also has traction in history and create a site in which these different subjects can engaged one another and i guess that would be to note that i would like to end on. my hope for the book is that for people and i see a lot of students another young scholars
in the chat and i want to find ways to gather with economics in new ways. >> amen to that john and i guess i should bring this to a close by commending you on the marvelous scholarship and writing and thanks to you for the dust sketch and in many wonderful questions that we were able to get to so thank you to the audience for engaging. and i look forward to seeing the reception of your book coming out in the coming months. thank you everyone. >> thank you both in thank you all.
>> at that very moment when the capitol police officers announced that we should take cover i stood up at the back of the gallery on the second level of the balcony and i saw the arizona slated to let years and i simply shouted out at the top of my lungs this is because of you and they screened it. >> this is because of you.
and they think i was representing four years with angst and anxiety and anger and i saw this coming from a mile away and i think probably millions of americans have felt the same way and at that very moment i recognize the fragility of our democracy. i have great appreciation for the traditions of the congress and the quorum and i do not like to violate it but i do not regret it. it was what i was feeling and it was four years of pent-up anxiety about what was transpiring right in front of our eyes. >> thank you foin
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