Although the American economic system has undergone significant changes since colonial times, there are identifiable threads that run through the centuries-old narrative. Chief among these are the themes of “liquidity” and state action – both of which can be a blessing or a curse.
CAMBRIDGE – Jonathan Levy, historian at the University of Chicago, is a leader of the nascent movement to place capitalism at the heart of the American experience. His major new work provides a framework for reading American history over 400 years and a theme to explain its conflicts and crises. Ages of American Capitalism is an exceptional work of scholarship and storytelling.
The “new history of capitalism” was motivated in large part by the global financial crisis of 2008. The crisis demonstrated the impact that financial events could have on the real economy, thus blowing up the dominant macroeconomic doctrine which considered to such events as literally inconceivable. Levy is one of a number of generally younger historians whose work is available to enrich the ongoing construction of a macroeconomics that integrates the behavior of financial markets and institutions.
The new story he delivers is different from what came before. It roots the “maps and chaps” of conventional historical narratives in the mud of economic life and the fantastical visions of financiers. It is a story constantly informed by what is happening in the markets for goods, services, labor and – most importantly – financial assets, but with the structure and movements of the markets still understood to be shaped by political forces.
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