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The Enigma of Capital: and the Crises of Capitalism [Paperback]

David Harvey
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 23 2011 0199836841 978-0199836840 Second Edition
For over forty years, David Harvey has been one of the world's most trenchant and critical analysts of capitalist development. In The Enigma of Capital, he delivers an impassioned account of how unchecked neoliberalism produced the system-wide crisis that now engulfs the world. Accompanying this was a shift towards privatization, an absolute decline in the bargaining power of labor, and the dispersion of production throughout the developing world. The decades-long and ongoing decline in wages that accompanied this turn produced a dilemma: how can goods - especially real estate - sell at the same rate as before if workers are making less in relative terms? The answer was a huge expansion of credit that fueled the explosive growth of both the financial industry and the real estate market. When one key market collapsed - real estate - the other one did as well, and social devastation resulted. Harvey places today's crisis in the broadest possible context: the historical development of global capitalism itself from the industrial era onward. Moving deftly between this history and the unfolding of the current crisis, he concentrates on how such crises both devastate workers and create openings for challenging the system's legitimacy. The battle now will be between the still-powerful forces that want to reconstitute the system of yesterday and those that want to replace it with one that prizes social justice and economic equality. The new afterword focuses on the continuing impact of the crisis and the response to it in 2010.

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"The narrative delineates with admirable clarity the arcane details of the current financial crisis, while rehearsing the rise of capitalism as a historically specific 'process' plagued by fundamental dilemmas."--Publishers Weekly

"A lucid and penetrating account of how the power of capital shapes our world."--Andrew Gamble, Independent

"Elegant... entertainingly swashbuckling... Harvey's analysis is interesting not only for the breadth of his scholarship but his recognition of the system's strengths."--John Gapper, Financial Times

"Brisk and persuasive... Looking at the Unites States, it is hard to see anything as Benign as the New Deal coming out of the present situation. If it does, it will probably owe a good deal to David Harvey's students."--The Literary Review

"[T]he recent near-collapse of the global economic system has added new plausibility to Marxist analysis, and David Harvey is certainly its most elegant and persuasive spokesperson . . . Harvey's [The Enigma of Capital] reminds us of the fundamental instability of the capitalist system, despite its remarkable innovations."--Tikkun

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

David Harvey is Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is among the top twenty most cited authors in the humanities and is the world's most cited academic geographer. His books include The Limits to Capital, Social Justice and the City, and The Condition of Postmodernity, among many others.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harvey and the Crisis April 10 2011
By Nic
This is one of the most accessible, lucid and informative books I have ever read. By far the most convincing analysis of the current economc crisis I have come across, but more than that, Harvey's ability to move across different 'moments' of the body politic and to weave an analysis of social evolution is unmatched. A very open and non dogmatic approach to Marxist historical materialism, which also adds a critical geographical analysis/component to that framework. Should appeal to people from a range of disciplines and to the expert and non expert alike.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Undiscovered Gem: Everyone Should Read this Book April 16 2014
By JoshMcD
Harvey has a real gift for explaining dense economics in accessible language.

Using clear, concise, and riveting language, he explains and explores the most important (and dangerous) challenges of our time, namely the mechanisms of late capitalism.

I wish everyone interested in how the world and its power systems work, and anyone wondering how and why the great recession occurred, should read this book.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read Dec 15 2011
This is a relatively accessible account of the crisis. Harvey brings to the contemporary crisis his unique methodological approach: "historical geographical" materialism. While his insistence on the importance of the spatial aspects of capital accumulation is to be recommended, some of his historical assumptions are questionable. David McNally's Global Slump is a good contrast.
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1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Enigma of the Enigma of Capital March 27 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found there was an awful lot of information in the book. Dr Harvey really explored a lot of things that have gone on in the world and it fit in with the study I am doing on Western Civilization. I found particularily interesting his frequent referral to Karl Marx and the book Capital which was required for another course. Harvey explained Marx better than Marx, and I have to agree. When it came to his solutions for the world I found it more than a bit unrealistic; although I appreciate what has been done in China and east Asia I know that they had to vere off pure communisism in order to reach the success they are now achieving. Although he is a geographer, he does not discuss the potential in his own country or in Canada and feel his emphasis on the negative is overdone.
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58 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant popularization of Marxist political economy Nov. 19 2010
By M. A. Krul - Published on
David Harvey is probably both the best known and most prolific author on popular topics in Marxist economics today, and this is one of his best books so far. Working always from his perspective as an economic geographer, in "The Enigma of Capital" he uses the occasion of the current financial crisis to provide a lengthy and highly accessible popular overview of the theory of capital. He analyzes what capital is, where it came from, how it accumulates, how it relates to markets, what the role is of ground rent and localization in its movement (both metaphorical and real), and finally combines all this into a highly compelling political economic narrative. What is especially virtuous about this book, even compared with some of Harvey's excellent earlier works, is his ability to explain the general thrust of Marxist political economy in a manner that is easily understood by the wider newspaper-reading public and without using virtually any of the specific technical terminology of Marxism, as well as avoiding any of the explicit political content that is specific to Marxism (other than a very skeptical attitude towards capitalism as such). This is no mean feat given the complicated nature of capital and the different levels of analysis it seems to require to be fully understood. Harvey of course adds to the fairly traditional Marxist picture so narrated his own particular emphasis on place and space as essential mediating elements in capital's circulation, both economically and politically. I think this is a useful and important addition, in particular with an eye to the local impact of political economy becoming 'real' in this way - one need but look at Newcastle or Detroit and see what this means.

The book focuses on analyzing capitalism as it presents itself now - there is not much political commentary in terms of opposition to capitalism, except for some general comments at the end. This avoids, as too many Marxist economic books do, the question of realistic alternatives. It also does not pay particular attention to the 'prehistory' of capital. But both of these are very irrelevant objections, as the virtue of this book is not to be yet another rehash of things that have been done very well by others already. Its virtue is in integrating the analysis of space, crisis, and capital into a work for a general public that is hostile to Marxist terminology and skeptical about economists in general (both probably with good reason). For that reason alone, this book comes with warm recommendation - even more when combined with his other recent major works, "The Limits to Capital" (The Limits to Capital (New and updated edition)) which works at a more in-depth theoretical level, and his companion to Marx's Capital (A Companion to Marx's Capital).
83 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Elegant Investigation Nov. 11 2010
By J. Edgar Mihelic - Published on
David Harvey ably and rather succinctly runs down the structural problem with capitalism as we know it. He focuses on the different ways Capital has had to evolve to continue its "3% Compound Growth" year after year. The results in the real world aren't pretty, but as Harvey covers them in his book, they are elegantly done. I have read several books that have focused on the most recent crisis in the capitalistic system and Harvey's tome is one that covers the specifics fairly well but is at its best looking at the global structural problem that is not specific to a time and place.

I was particularly impressed with the final chapter, as anyone with such a cogent criticism must be able to imagine a better world. Harvey answers the eternal question "What is to be done?" with a pragmatic and undogmatic response that recognizes the variability that necessitate a multi-pronged approach to moving to a post-capitalistic world that looks to the future and not the past. I am still pessimistic about the short term future, but it is hard to have too much pessimism when there are talented individuals like David Harvey out in the world teaching and writing - I just hope more people start listening.
63 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart, Entertaining Account of the Economic Crisis Oct. 5 2010
By Megan Morrissey - Published on
"At times of crisis, the irrationality of capitalism becomes plain for all to see," Harvey writes at the beginning of the last chapter in The Enigma of Capital. He describes this irrationality with characteristic wisdom and analytic clarity. This book is an entertaining explanation of the current economic crisis and its significance in history. Harvey's forty-year career has been spent teaching and writing about Marx, but he is not so much a "Marxist" as a scholar of Marx; he analyzes capitalism using the tools and the perspectives that Marx provided, while also recognizing their limits and building on them in order to move forward the kind of rigorous critique of capitalism that is absolutely essential right now.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars dissatisfying to Marxists uncompelling to non-Marxists Feb. 22 2013
By Ian Delairre - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
David Harvey seems professorial and pedantic in his leisurely explanation of the various faults of capitalism. The argument of the book is basically a remix and rehash of his truly excellent "Limits of Capital" and his lectures on Marx's first volume of "Capital" but without the same academic rigor, citation, and desire for explication or elucidation. After the relatively informative first chapter we are left to take much at his word. As the work progresses Harvey deviates here and there into only peripherally related musings. For instance, an argument against Peak Oil, a haphazard account of Marx's conception of nature, and critique of Malthus appears in the chapter "Capital Goes to Work" which was supposed to explain how capital harnesses and coordinates labor. I was looking for a Marxist account of the financial collapse in 2008, a rigorous analysis of finance capital (the credit/banking system and its systemic weaknesses), and an overall picture of the contemporary economic situation in terms of political economy. In short, I wanted the 'enigma of capital' banished as promised. What I got was something akin to the moralizing rants of my Marxist sociology teacher in college: histrionic and poorly founded. But David Harvey doesn't even emerge as passionate and the performance is lacking. Perhaps this is meant to be a popular work, but I know that David Harvey is capable of much more. However, the question remains, if this is dissatisfying to me, someone favorable to Marxism, how can it hope be compelling to a hostile audience?
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars At Last, A Solid Critique From The Left June 20 2011
By Antonis - Published on
One would think that with the economic crisis of 2007, the publication of fresh left-wing critiques of the current state of capitalism would have been on the rise. A quick search on Amazon will tell you otherwise, as most leftist critiques fail to address the major problems of the system in a persuasive way. They seem to me to be merely re-publishing old views under new names, and one would rather re-read his Marx, Keynes, or Schumpeter instead of books that simply recycle their ideas. Thankfully, David Harvey has produced a clear and original analysis on the economic crisis and capitalism in general, which can become a solid basis for a new left-wing critique of the system, as well as a guide for the direction of future political action.

Harvey begins by addressing the way the system was rescued from the crisis of the 1970s, and then moves on to examine how this has produced the condition on which the later crises developed, expanded, and accumulated to the great financial crisis of 2007. He examines the growth of the financial markets since the rise of neoliberalism, both in relation to the stagnation of wages and the fall in investment and profiteering in the productive economy during the same period. His analysis focuses on the increase of debt-financed demand in the place of effective demand to cover the lost demand from the stagnation of wages, and the increased risk taking of firms that began profiteering from their activity in the financial markets rather than the productive economy.

But in the typical Marxist tradition, Harvey begins with a specific event, and expands the critique to the whole capitalist system. He starts by explaining that capitalism is a process, based upon the idea of the accumulation of capital, and the expansion of the system into new markets and so on. Capitalism as a process constantly re-creates itself and further expands, breaking the boundaries to its movement. This expansion allows for the increase in the availability of the factors of production, and allows the exploitation of them. This process, however, is the source of the problem for Harvey. He sees crises as inherited in the system due to its internal contradictions. Its economic, social and ecological implications are enormous and cannot allow a system based on a constant increase in growth to continue forever. In this perspective, the foundations of our economic activity need to be changed in order to improve the current and future conditions of humanity. Of course, his analysis is much richer than simply this, but one has to read the book to really grasp his view.

Although often described as a Marxist, Harvey's book does not force to the reader a despotic Marxist interpretation of capitalism. It seems that Harvey selects only the bits and pieces found in Marx's works that are still useful for purposeful analysis, and avoids the use of problematic concepts that other Marxist scholars often make use of. Thus, ideas such as the base-superstructure analogy, economic determinism, or the labor theory of value are thankfully not found in this book. Harvey certainly adds his own touch on Marxist theory throughout the book, especially at the point when he takes a footnote found in Marx's Capital, and expands it into a developed, structured argument in itself.

The reason, however, that I give this book four stars and not five, is that it offers no real alternative, or a straight direction for action. Harvey suggests that the left, together with other anti-capitalist groups should unite and co-operate in order to achieve a change in the system, instead of allowing it to reproduce itself. But such a statement is general at best, and clearly shows the weakness of the new radical left in producing a specific and detailed alternative to capitalism.

Another point I did not like is the use of Maoist China as an example of a way of producing low infant mortality in absence of capitalism. Harvey is surely not an apologist of the Communist regimes of the 20th century. He simply tried to force an example in which a non-capitalist society managed to lower its infant mortality, but seeing how Mao's China also produced the greatest famine recorded in history, I believe that the example was truly inappropriate, and contradicts the point.

Other than that, this is the book to get if you are looking for a left-wing perspective on the economic crisis as well as a fresh critique of capitalism.
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