Monday, December 02, 2013


Capitalism is hardly a new invention, even though the we think of the age of capitalism being just the last couple of hundred years or so. The central principle of capitalism is the free market, and markets go back approximately as far as civilization, or possibly farther. Even hunter-gatherers are known to do a bit of trading, but since they don't and can't own much, not too much. Once property gets to be substantial it needs protection, and markets need regulation.

The usual pattern of history seems to be that once a wealthy class establishes itself, it choses to become a hereditary aristocracy, and that means using its control of markets to shut down competition. Rome and Florence offer interesting examples. The Roman dictator Sulla, for example, got a lot of support out of handing out previously public enterprises to crony capitalists, who made it big. Not too different Reagan and the Bushies.