Sunday, April 14, 2019

Three by Veblen: The Theory of Business Enterprise, Absentee Ownership and Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution

Now up: reviews of three more of Thorstein Veblen's classics, namely The Theory of Business Enterprise, Absentee Ownership and Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution. The Theory of Business Enterprise (1904) laid out a robust vision of modern economic life, especially as it went on in the United States, focusing on what he saw as the incompatibility of eighteenth century liberalism with contemporary economic conditions, and especially the growing problems entailed in business control of an increasingly intricate, productive, yet fragile industrial life. Two decades later, he gave this problem a fuller, updated, more mature treatment in Absentee Ownership (1923). To a great degree, his analysis retains considerable relevance to our time in numerous respects, from the role of finance in economic life, to the forces underlying our "culture wars."

The third book reviewed here, actually published in the interval between the appearance of the other two works (1915), concerns Wilhelmine Germany, a subject that took on special urgency with the outbreak of the First World War the year before. Drawing on Veblen's longstanding line of thought about the cultural change wrought by the industrial "machine process," it affords some insight into the events of that time, and holds special interest as a pioneering treatment of the "advantages of backwardness."

In case it would be of interest, I have previously also reviewed that book by which Veblen is best known, The Theory of the Leisure Class, which you can find here.

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