Capitalism 3.1

Article Abstracts – Winter 2022


Microcosms and Macrocosms: Capitalism and the Latent Metaphysics of Scale
C. N. Biltoft

Using the metaphor of microcosm and macrocosm, this thought-piece moves through a number of seemingly very different texts—from the Sibylline Oracles to Voltaire’s Micromegas to J. M. Keynes’s “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren”—to ask what if any remnants of metaphysical concerns linger on in contemporary micro/macro divides.


Gustav Cramer, Max J. Friedländer, and the Value of Expertise in the Arts
Kim Oosterlinck

What is the value of expertise in the arts? This article relies on two microcases to address this general question. It focuses on the fate of Gustav Cramer and Max J. Friedländer in the occupied Netherlands during World War II. Their casesare exceptional in that both survived the war even though the Nazi occupation forces knew that they were Jewish according to the 1935 Nuremberg Laws and knew where they lived. This article argues that their lives were spared because both were experts in their fields, art history and art markets respectively, and were therefore valuable for the occupation forces. The analysis sheds new light on these forms of expertise and suggests that expertise may be subject to superstar effects. The unique position held by the arts for the Nazi regime is highlighted by comparing expertise in the arts with the economic value of other forms of expertise.

Small States in an Age of Empires: The Duchy of Parma’s Colonial Moment, 1750–1770
Arnaud Orain, Sophus A. Reinert

Often thought of as the “Athens of Italy” during the Enlightenment, and as a microcosm of the Italian peninsula and of the eighteenth century alike, the Duchy of Parma played a unique role in the culture and politics of the age. This essay focuses on its “colonial moment” as a target of French imperial ambitions around the time of the Seven Years’ War, on its vibrant intellectual life as well as on the theory and practice of its political economy. Many Parmese resented the duchy’srole as a de facto French colony under Secretary of State Guillaume Dutillot, and the resulting dynamics of acculturation, institutionalization, and resistance serve as a baroque mirror for the longer story of small states in tempestuous world economies and the broader historical dynamics of globalization and empire—dynamics which very much remain central to the past, present, and future of capitalism.

Banking for Jesus: Financial Services, Charity, and an Ethical Economy in Late Victorian and Edwardian Britain
Julie-Marie Strange, Sarah Roddy

This essay extends current analysis of the relationship between charity and capitalism by examining one charity’s engagement with financial capitalism. The Salvation Army, established in 1878, transformed charity-run financial services from a welfare initiative into a model of ethical capitalism. Historical analysis addressing the relationship Christian confessions had with money has focused largely on the United Statesand studied the morals around managing money rather than its acquisition. Histories of finance and accounting, meanwhile, have concentrated on large commercial banks, while scholarship on smaller savings banks is still emergent (and much stronger on US banks). This essay is situated in the matrix of these scholarships to, first, demonstrate on a micro level how a charity could bring about social change by pioneering “ethical” financial services and, second, consider the macro implications of such attempts for understanding the challenges inherent in reforming capitalist practices and the paradoxical “capitalocentrism” of even those that sought to advance alternative economies.

A Bed, a Cover, and Possibly a Pillow: The International Labour Organization and the Housing Conditions of Agricultural Workers in the Interwar Years
Amalia Ribi Forclaz

The intimately mundane matter of sleeping quarters—of beds, blankets, and pillows—would seem a subject better suited to the domain of cultural history than to that of either labor history or the international political economy of the interwar years. And yet, in 1921, these objects became the focus of the newly created International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland. This article examines how the ILO addressed the problematic conditions in which farmworkers all over Europe were housed. It focuses on the way the ILO sought to define the needs of the farmworker and therefore assimilated as much as language from industrial settings as possible, identifying the “agricultural worker” as a hybrid whose situation both differed from and resembled that of factory workers. The ILO’s investigations into the”living-in conditions” of hired farm labor offer a glimpse into the complexity of labor relations in the agricultural sector and the difficulty of viewing paid farmwork as just another form of wage paid labor.

Making Money Amnesiac: The 1882 Making of Modern Negotiability in the United Kingdom
Samuel Segura Cobos

Drawing on microeconomic literature that highlights the convoluted links between memory, money, and information insensitive assets, this paper empirically explores the history and legal construction of modern negotiability in late nineteenth-century London. Taking a broader view, I argue that the 1882 Bill of Exchange Act (BoExA) was important in reengineering the money-memory nexus. This was achieved by reworking preexisting legal rules enabling transferability of bills of exchange around the holder in due course (HDC) doctrine. As a result of the superior legal protection of theHDC of a negotiable instrument, the need to inquire into any underlying credit risk was obviated. If the private debt claim was recognized as negotiable, the HDC was equallyrecognized as possessing the right to full recovery. This legal development complemented microstructural changes in the money market such as the emergence of the lender of last resort macropolicy in thecontext of a rising investment-oriented financial ecology.


Metaphorical Overtures of Freedom and the Plantation Complex
Ulbe Bosma, Kris Manjapra

Plantations are not only sites of industrial agricultural production but also places of new thinking. The study of the historical spread of the plantation complex provides insight into both the rise of new globally circulating concepts andalso, more fundamentally, into the underlying conditions for the rise of these concepts. Paradoxically, the global proliferation and transformation of plantation societies generated a metaphorical substructure that conditioned how disparate social groups, in contradictory and contested ways, imagined new meanings of freedom. Exploring the historical metaphorics of the plantation complex contributes to global intellectual history. This essay reenvisions the plantation complex as central to modernity’s epistemology—to the critical reflection on the parameters of knowledge in modern times, and how they emerged and morphed in relation to the forces of history.

Swiss Capitalism, or the Significance of Small Things
Pierre Eichenberger

“Small is beautiful,” believedthe economist Ernst Friedrich Schumacher.For him, a more humane society required favoring smaller scales over gigantism. In the following essay, I reflect on the political economy of one of the smallest, and certainly the richest, of places on earth: Switzerland. I consider in particular older (Peter Katzenstein, Corporatism and Change) and newer (Lea Haller, Transithandel) literature on Swiss capitalism, and discuss the global impact of its powerful business lobbies, trading companies, and banks. I argue that the great power wielded by capitalists in Swiss politicshas translated into Switzerland’s becoming an important cog in the machinery of global capitalism, a stronghold for neoliberalism, and a global warden of conservatism.