UpFront

Fund Drive: Adam Smith and the Genesis of Capitalism

In this episode of UpFront we hear recordings from a film on the genesis of capitalism, tracing it’s history through an exploration of the life Adam Smith, and the many historic moments that built up to The Wealth of Nations. “Adam Smith: The Birth of the Free Market,” is part of a six-part series on the history of capitalism (Capitalism) by filmmaker Ilan Ziv.

About the film:

How did capitalism develop? For centuries, the standard formulation – laid out by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations and repeated uncritically ever since – has gone like this: humans used to trade and barter, but as society became increasingly complex, barter became harder to manage and money developed.

The trouble is that – like the story of Columbus discovering America – everything about this classical formulation is wrong.

film still

This episode explores the origins of capitalism, arguing that it is inextricably linked to colonialism, the rise of science, and the slave trade. Capitalism preceded Smith by centuries – the plantations of the West Indies were purely capitalist enterprises, as were the privately-funded expeditions that colonized much of the world. Like today’s startups, these ventures offered high risk but huge rewards to those that succeeded.

On a journey covering four continents and nearly a millennium, we discover the flourishing free market of 12th-century China, learn how the economics of indigenous societies differed vastly from their portrayal by Smith, and come to understand how the European “discovery” of America fueled a scientific boom that was integral to colonization and economic exploitation – creating a global capitalist boom that was felt from the streets of China, to the slave castles of West Africa, the markets of Spain and the pastures of England.

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