September 20, 2009
Before moving to the F. Braudel's considerations, we must to come to an understanding on the term and the concept of "capitalism", that suggests the amount destined to be invested to produce an interest. The use of the term "capitalism" appears in the middle of the nineteenth century, but its spread, according to Braudel, is probably the product of a successful essay, "The Modern capitalism", published in 1902 by the German sociologist Werner Sombart (1883-1941).
The term "capitalism" is not used by Karl Marx (1818-1883), although he had been the first to develop a critical analysis of the social system then so-called "capitalism." Marx limited himself to the definition of the modes of the capitalist production; or the social connections and the prevailing techniques which produce the wealth of the society. However, in order to give us back to the issue of the definition of capitalism, because a system is so named, they must be present some key factors: the private owners of inputs, a free competition on the market, the investment of capital to make a profit, the availability of the waged workforce and, finally, the utilization of rational techniques of the cost-reducing activity. I start by saying that the fundamental studies on the origins of capitalism are of some scholars as Dobb, Sombart, Wallenstein; however, for the moment, I simply explain the contents of " Capitalism and Material life" (1), in which Braudel also addresses the problem of capitalism. The topic of work is the economy of the Modern Era from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, on a global dimension.
According to Braudel, in this phase of history we cannot to speak of a single economy, but of three economies.
- The first is represented by the primary activity (self-sufficiency, limited exchange) in which the men ensure to themselves the survival . It represents the context of the so-called "material civilization", which describe itself as an immutable way with a slow rhythm.
- The second is known as "the market economy", characterized by the trade.
- But, over and above, there is an economy in which the economic actors operate within; they are put at the top of the social hierarchy, and they jump into the initiatives to exceed the standards and the regularity of market. This type of initiatives, making good use of the financial sophisticated and credit instruments and utilizing a complex chain of intermediaries, produce large benefits and a significant accumulation of capital.
The action of the great merchants, the main characters of this transformation, had the ability to grab the key for the long-distance trade: they knew and achieved the information for themselves, and they had a complicity in the privileged sectors of society and in the apparatus of the State, gaining the "monopoly" and, basically, deceiving to the rules of the market, that it is, "ab imis", based on the competition and on an (hypothetical) equal basis of departure.
This type of capitalism, according to Braudel, was not practiced by any individuals, but by any "Societies" and "Companies", which were some structures that moved themselves with the "complicity" of the State apparatus and of the public authorities. They situated these Companies in a state of monopoly and therefore in a position to gain very high profits. Thus, the Braudel's analysis goes "beyond" the narrow economic sphere, emphasizing how the "primitive capitalism" was a phenomenon "encouraged" (using an euphemism) by the public authorities.
1) F. Braudel, "Capitalism and material life", 1400-1800. [ F. Braudel, "Civilt materiale, economia e capitalismo (secoli XV-XVIII), Torino, Einaudi, 1983 ].