Last autumn German-French public TV station Arte broadcasted a six-part documentary on the history of capitalism by reviewing and critically discussing the “grand theories” of modern economics. I watched it over Christmas and can only recommend it, especially for those who want a concise yet detailed overview of what seems to determine most of global economics, politics, and culture (though you need to be able to understand either German and French). Regarding the current state of Eurozone politics and the ongoing conflict between neo-liberal and leftwing perspectives (see Greece), I think it remains of elevated topicality and may help viewers to read current events against their broader historical context.
The series starts with Adam Smith (who else?) and the basic idea of the ‘free market’. Th authors outline how a limited understanding of his enormously complex work and misinterpretation of key bits led to a fateful dogmatism that focused on the alleged rationality of free individuals and markets regulated by an “invisible hand”. The second part stays with Smith and discusses his magnum opus The Wealth of Nations. It continues to show how his ideas, thoughts, and observations wer soften taken out of context and re-interpreted for specific goals and aims.
The following episodes then take a critical view on the works of David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, Marx, the heated debate between Hayek and Keynes, and finally Karl Polanyi – who developed the compelling thought that economics should be seen as part of cultural activity.
Read more about the show here. You can also watch the complete series on Youtube:
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