Top Ten Books on Comparative Capitalism

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Capitalism is the predominant economic system operating throughout the world today.  While definitions of capitalism vary, it is essentially a socio-economic system of governance which emphasizes private ownership of capital, a relatively unrestricted market for labor, and the price mechanism is the primary mechanism for allocating capital.  However, there are many different models of capitalism operating throughout the world.  Each model is a result of a nation’s unique history and current cultural predisposition.  For example, both the United States and Japan are capitalistic economies, but their approaches to capitalism are remarkably different. 

The comparative capitalism literature seeks to determine the similarities and differences between the various models of capitalism in operation throughout the world.   There has been a recent explosion of writings seeking to understand first how capitalism differs within the developed economies, and now there is growing interest in understanding how capitalism differs between developed and developing economies.

I’ve been reading the comparative capitalism literature a lot lately due to my long-standing interest in comparative corporate governance.  Listed below are my top ten books on the subject:

1. Whitley, Richard (1999).  Divergent capitalisms: The social structuring and change of business systems.  New York: Oxford University Press.

One of the earliest books to try to characterize capitalism in the developed and developing economies.  This book is breathtaking in terms of its scope.  Identified four institutional dimensions that influence the model of capitalism utilized within a society: (1) the role of the state, (2) nature of financial systems, (3) skill development and control systems, and (4) cultural norms associated with trust and authority.

2. Esping-Andersen, Gosta (1999). Social foundations of postindustrial economies.  New York: Oxford University Press.

This insightful book examines the varieties of welfare capitalism operating throughout the world. Specifically, the author considers how an economy treats its disenfranchised members.  Unlike many other books, this book seeks to understand how the distribution of economic benefits happen in various forms of capitalism.  Three different varieties are explored: (1) liberal, (2) social democratic, and (3) conservative.

3. Hall, Peter & Soskice, David (eds.) 2001. Varieties of capitalism: The institutional foundations of comparative advantage.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Landmark book comparing and contrasting liberal market economies from coordinated market economies.  Only considers developed economies, however.

4. Amable, Bruno (2003).  The diversity of modern capitalism.  New York: Oxford University Press.

One of the first books to systematically  examine the institutions of capitalism operating in the developed economies using OECD data.  Using cluster analysis, Amable inductively derives five types of capitalism: (1) liberal, (2) social democratic, (3) European-integration, (4) Mediterranean, and (5) Asian.

5. Schroder, Martin  (2013).  Integrating varieties of capitalism and welfare state research: A unified typology of capitalisms. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Recently published book that integrates Hall and Soskice’s (2001) dual typology with Esping-Anderson’s (1999) welfare regime typology.  Very good synthesis of the literature and the references are very complete and up to date.  Very interesting focus on the three variants of Christianity to explain capitalism: (1) Calvanism, (2) Catholicism, and Lutheranism.

6. North, Douglass (1990).  Institutions, institutional change and economic performance.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

North won the Nobel prize for his institutional insights, and this book captures many of his pioneering ideas. He takes a largely historical approach to comparative capitalism in this book and distinguishes between formal and informal institutions.  His comparison of Spain versus England is a classic comparative analysis.  Both countries faced fiscal crises in the seventeenth century, but they responded in radically different ways due to their institutional mark-up and this led to global domination by England in the next three centuries.

7. Coates, David (ed.) (2005) Varieties of capitalism, varieties of approaches.  New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

This edited volume argues for increasing focus on institutions as opposed to markets to better understand models of capitalism.  Furthermore, a plea is made for greater theoretical emphasis to better understand these models, and it decries the pre-eminence of neo-classical economics as not being a very promising paradigm for understanding these models.

8. Crouch, Colin (2005) Capitalist diversity and change: Recombinant governance and institutional entrepreneurs. New York: Oxford University Press.

Crouch conducts a sweeping critique of the comparative capitalism literature and proposes a major reorientation of future research in the field.  He emphasizes the the concept of governance and the state should be at the center of future research since this is where most models of capitalism differ.

9. Boyer, Robert & Hollingsworth, J. Rogers (1997) Contemporary capitalism: The embeddedness of institutions.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Boyer proposed a conceptual typology of capitalisms based on the different regulation regimes.  His four regimes are: (1) market capitalism, (2) meso-corporatist capitalism, (3) state-driven capitalism, (4) social-partnership capitalism.

10.  Scott, Bruce  (2009).  The concept of capitalism.  New York: Springer.

This short book is an excellent primer on what capitalism is from a political economy perspective.  Does a nice job of discussing the critical role of the state in refereeing the rules of the game in capitalistic competition, despite the state’s denigration in traditional liberal understanding.

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