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Alex Martelli
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Guillaume, """I think capitalism came from the inventions of limited liability and the bankruptcy process, where the state protects company owners from losing more than pledged capital.""" -- I think you have history (and therefore causality) backwards: the Limited Liability Act was passed in 1855 (in Britain, the cradle of capitalism), and it's impossible to claim that capitalism "came from" that, when it had been well underway (in Britain) for at least a century by then (even Polanyi, who stubbornly refuses to call "capitalism" the system Smith and Ricardo were writing about (!), dates "industrial capitalism" from 1834...). (Even under the Joint Stock Companies Act of 1844, investors still had unlimited liability; indeed, for insurance specifically, unlimited liability remained the law until the Companies Act of 1862). France, the US, and many other European countries followed slightly later. I agree that capitalism is not the same thing as private property, but you cannot claim that the "missing link", capitalism's "cause", was limited liability -- rather, limited liability was introduced as part of the growth process of already mature capitalism, to call up more capital into enterprise from middle classes, in good part in professional callings, that were starting to have interesting amounts of it. Me, I see capitalism born in many late-medieval Italian towns (Florence, Venice and Genoa perhaps the clearest, best-known examples), but I understand many think this identification premature, and it's a reasonable disagreement; but surely, starting when the Amsterdam Bourse opened in 1602, trading stocks and bonds, rejecting the name "capitalism" for that evolving system takes less and less reasonableness;-).
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May 31, 2010