It seems odd now to recall that up until a few years ago, the concept of capitalism largely had fallen out of favor as a subject of academic inquiry and critique. Most scholars in the humanities and social sciences regarded the term as too broad, too vague, too encumbered by associations with either Marxism or laissez-faire. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, capitalism could be taken for granted, it seemed. No person or nation could escape the discipline of efficient, spontaneous, self-regulating, globalizing markets.
Economists cut economies loose from society, institutions, culture, and history. They repositioned their discipline upon models that assumed that rational, utility-maximizing individual parts represented and explained the behavior of the economy-as-a-whole. Many social scientists — especially in political science — embraced these rational-actor models. Others joined historians and humanities scholars in the “cultural turn.” …
Plus remembrances of former New School students of Eric Hobsbawm
I am honored to have been asked to offer closing words for this memorial event celebrating the life and work of Eric Hobsbawm. This is a New School event, and not by coincidence. As Dean of The New School for Social Research, I want first to thank Ira Katznelson, for bringing Eric Hobsbawm to us when Ira was Dean here years ago. Eric’s legacy will always be part of ours. He was our own too.
I want now to speak about the legacy of Eric Hobsbawm at the NSSR, both about how his presence in these halls strengthened us at the time, and how today it challenges us as our unique graduate faculty of social sciences moves ahead in this strange 21st century.
I was lucky to sit on a few dissertation committees with Eric, so I had a chance to watch his great mind at work and to observe up close his supervisory style. Perhaps not surprisingly, he liked supervising students in economics, my own discipline. My recollection is of someone who showed great joy in helping young scholars and mentoring in the best sense of the word — that is, not dictating answers and methods, but by taking the students’ work very seriously, posing detailed questions, and listening carefully to the answers. Students felt respected and challenged at the same time – just the right combination needed to nurture serious and engaged scholarship from an advanced graduate student preparing to enter the world of ideas as a professional…
The following is the prepared text of the speech given by Minister Haekkerup on September 28, 2013, at The New School, with an introduction by William Milberg.
The word “capitalism,” describing our market-oriented economic system of wage labor, private ownership and the endless drive for wealth accumulation, was invented in the 19th century. For the last part of the twentieth century, “capitalism” was a dirty word. It alluded ever so uncomfortably to exploitation in human interaction and the unequal nature of modern economic society. The word capitalism was represented by euphemisms in economics –- “competitive equilibrium,” “pure competition,” or “monetary production system.” My late colleague Robert Heilbroner found that Gregory Mankiw’s popular textbook, Principles of Economics, a book over 500 pages long and first published in 1998, mentions the word “capitalism” just one time, and that occurs in a footnote.
In 2013, we once again dare to speak the word. Why? Because with the international financial crisis of 2008 and the economic stagnation experienced in much of the industrialized world since then, there is a palpable sense that the system is at risk and in need of scrutiny, as a system. Capitalism, it would seem, is back.