23 episodes

In this course, we will seek to interpret capitalism using ideas from biological evolution: Firms pursuing varied strategies and facing extinction when those strategies fail are analogous to organisms struggling for survival in nature. For this reason, it is less concerned with ultimate judgment of capitalism than with the ways it can be shaped to fit our more specific objectives – for the natural environment, public health, alleviation of poverty, and development of human potential in every child. Each book we read will be explicitly or implicitly an argument about good and bad consequences of capitalism.

Capitalism: Success, Crisis and Reform - Audio Yale University

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In this course, we will seek to interpret capitalism using ideas from biological evolution: Firms pursuing varied strategies and facing extinction when those strategies fail are analogous to organisms struggling for survival in nature. For this reason, it is less concerned with ultimate judgment of capitalism than with the ways it can be shaped to fit our more specific objectives – for the natural environment, public health, alleviation of poverty, and development of human potential in every child. Each book we read will be explicitly or implicitly an argument about good and bad consequences of capitalism.

    01 - Exploding Worlds and Course Introduction

    01 - Exploding Worlds and Course Introduction

    Professor Rae introduces the concept of capital as accumulated wealth used to produce more wealth. Questions about what constitutes capital are posed and discussed. The biggest story in recent economic history is the substitution of labor intensive production to capital intensive production. This transition, and the various speeds and scales with which it has occurred in different places at different times, has generated large income disparities around the world. Characteristics of capitalism are presented and discussed.

    • 46 min
    02 - Thomas Malthus and Inevitable Poverty

    02 - Thomas Malthus and Inevitable Poverty

    Professor Rae shows how countries over the last two centuries have experienced improved life expectancies and increased incomes per capita. Dynamic graphical representation of this trend reveals how improved life expectancies tend to predate increases in wealth. Malthus' "iron law of wages" and diminishing returns are explained. Questions about why the industrial revolution occurred in England at the time that it did are then posed. Professor Rae then shows the importance of the "world demographic transition" to economic history and contemporary economics. All countries tend to follow similar demographic patterns over the course of their economic development. Countries tend to have high birth and death rates in Phase I, falling death rate and high birth rate in Phase II, falling birth rate to meet the death rate in Phase III, and low birth and death rates in Phase IV. These demographic patterns are associated with different levels of capital and labor. While all countries follow this demographic transition, they do so at different times, and world trade is a way of "arbitraging" between different stages in the world demographic transition.

    • 49 min
    03 - Counting the Fingers of Adam Smith's Invisible Hand

    03 - Counting the Fingers of Adam Smith's Invisible Hand

    Professor Rae introduces Adam Smith's notion of the "invisible hand" of the market. Several preconditions must be met for the invisible hand to work. Markets must be open, and there cannot be just one buyer or one seller who can control product prices. No producer can hold a pivotal private technology, and there must be more or less truthful information across the whole market. Governments must enforce property and contracts. However, many of these preconditions are at odds with the Porter Forces, which represent general rules of thumb, or principles, for a firm trying to make above average profits. These principles include avoiding direct competition, establishing high barriers to entry, and avoiding powerful buyers and powerful suppliers. Professor Rae suggests that submission to Adam Smith's invisible hand may be contrary to basics of corporate strategy. Corporations can leverage powerful political influence to affect the movements of the "invisible hand." Guest speaker Jim Alexander, formerly of Enron, discusses problems of very imperfect information, as well as the principal-agent problem. Professor Rae also discusses Adam Smith's complicated ideas about self-interest and morality.

    • 45 min
    04 - Karl Marx, Joseph Schumpeter, and an Economic System Incapable of Coming to Rest

    04 - Karl Marx, Joseph Schumpeter, and an Economic System Incapable of Coming to Rest

    Professor Rae relates Marxist theories of monopoly capitalism to Schumpeter's theory of creative destruction. Both Marx and Schumpeter agree that capitalism is a system that is "incapable of standing still," and is always revising (or revolutionizing) itself. Professor Rae critiques Marxist determinism and other features of Marx's theories. To highlight Schumpeterian creative destruction, Professor Rae uses examples from technological revolutions in energy production since water-powered mills. Marx's labor theory of value is discussed. Professor Rae highlights aspects overlooked by Marx, including supply and demand for labor, labor quality, and the role of capital in economic growth. Professor Rae also notes problems with Marx's predictions, including the prediction that the revolution will occur in the most advanced capitalist economies. Professor Rae also discusses Marx's theory of the universal class, the end of exploitation, and the withering away of the state.

    • 47 min
    05 - Property, Freedom, and the Essential Job of Government

    05 - Property, Freedom, and the Essential Job of Government

    A practical theory of freedom is discussed, based on Hayek's Constitution of Liberty. Free societies can be thought of as great learning machines capable of aggregating individuals' knowledge and accomplishments. Professor Rae uses examples from automotives and university administration to illustrate how freedom allows everybody to profit from others' knowledge. Professor Rae also highlights Hayek's story of the rock climber who is stuck at the bottom of the crevasse, and discusses whether refusing to assist another is an implicit act of coercion. Hayek's theories of freedom are applied to modern cases of extreme poverty in developing countries. Professor Rae also discusses Yale University Press' decision not to publish controversial cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed within a recent book. The lecture concludes with de Soto's notions of live and dead capital, and the importance of property rights in unlocking the productive power of capitalism.

    • 47 min
    06 - Rise of the Joint Stock Corporation

    06 - Rise of the Joint Stock Corporation

    Professor Rae explains how the growing scale and complexity of railroads in the US were foundational to the development of modern capitalism. Operating the railroad system required professional managers and new management techniques, and the scale of railroad financing gave rise to the formation of the joint stock corporation. Professor Rae then discusses how different forms of company ownership differ along liability, liquidity, financial scalability, accountability, and role of ownership dimensions. Joint stock corporations are shown to be extremely efficient ways to raise large amounts of money, even if they suffer principal-agent problems.

    • 44 min

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