The Nature and Logic of Capitalism has 97 ratings and 10 reviews. Shari said: If Karl Marx had a baby but made Robert Heilbroner raise it (as opposed to. Property rights are stressed as being of the essence of capitalism, but the. Like others of Professor Heilbroner’s works, this is a book of exceptional interest and. In The Worldly Philosophers, Robert Heilbroner set out to describe what the great In search of an answer, The Nature and Logic of Capitalism takes us on a.

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May 23, by Ahmed Afzaal.

My larger purpose is heilbronfr understand capitalism. Yet, there is much more to capitalism an what appears in the day-to-day activities of business, finance, and industry.

How do we know that such forces actually exist if we cannot observe them? We know them by their effects on the empirical world. Heilbroner uses the metaphor of a magnetic force field. The production of surplus, he emphasizes, is not unique to capitalism. The difference is this: Wealth, in the form of material things or in the form of money, is not identical with capital.

Wealth becomes capital only when it is part of a process that transforms money into commodities and commodities into more money. Capital is not a concrete entity; it is the representation of a particular kind of hellbroner process.

That altered relationship was the end product of a protracted revolution, commencing in the fifteenth century or even earlier, continuing through the nineteenth, and in some parts of the world still in progress, in which the enclosure movement, the destruction of protected crafts and guilds, the creation of a proletariat from the cellars of society, and the whirlwind forces of new technologies disrupted the social relations of older socioeconomic regimes and prepared the way for the wholly different regime of capital.

He then asks the obvious question: Heilbroner finds this answer to be relevant but insufficient. He points out that there are two main ways through which people acquire prestige: The objects in the first category could be virtually anything, depending on the culture in question. The drive to accumulate capital, however, can be explained only partially be appealing to the desire for prestige. It is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one.

The difference is as follows: In fact, my wealth gives me power over other people, i. When it comes to commanding obedience, power trumps prestige. The attribute of wealth that distinguishes it from prestige goods is that its possession confers on its owners the ability to direct and mobilize the activities of society, although it does not necessarily also confer the repute or authority of distinction. Capital calls the tune, even though an individual capitalist may be an object of contempt.

Wealth therefore implies a rights of a kind that prestige objects do not have, in particular. These goods may enjoy no symbolic importance, but they have material importance so that control over access to them invests their owners with an attribute that goes beyond prestige and preeminence.

In a subsistence society, everyone has equal access to the means of survival, i. In such nathre society, there is prestige but no wealth. The drive to accumulate capital is therefore inseparable from the drive to accumulate power. But why do we desire power in the first place? Some individuals emerge from this childhood experience with unappeased and unappeasable needs for affect; others with a submissiveness acquired in coping with adult wills; and all with enough residue of both to give rise to a widespread empathetic understanding of domination itself, and of the needs it satisfied from above and from below.


Infancy is the condition from which we must all escape, and as such, the source of the emancipatory thrust that is also part of the human drama; but it is as well a condition to which we all to some degree wish to return, the prototype of the existential security that we also seek. Heilbroner acknowledges that the above explanation for the origin of domination in human societies is incomplete and inadequate.

It answers part of the question, but fails to settle it conclusively; in other words, it provides the necessary pf for domination, but not the sufficient condition. The psychological answer does not explain the emergence of inequality as a historic fact. Unfortunately, Heilbroner does not provide a satisfactory answer to this question. Other scholars have done extensive work on explaining the development and expansion of domination in human societies; what they have neglected, however, is the capiatlism in which human nature itself allows for this possibility.

An informative article on a very important topic as there is much confusion about the definition of capitalism. There is one point, made in the excerpt from the above natue, which I fail to understand.

How did capitalism deny these rights? My understanding of capitalism is quite opposite. How capitalism actually stops peasants from accessing their means of livelihood? I would be grateful if the author can elaborate this oof.

To produce something useful, such as a cellphone, you need both capital in the form of factories and raw material and labor in the form of skilled workers. Neither of these can function alone. It is true that under capitalism, the right to private property is considered sacrosanct; but if the owners of capital are the sole owners of the surplus resulting from a capital-labor collaboration, then the system is clearly lopsided because it is exploitative with respect to labor.

Under such an exploitative system, a defense of private property is essentially a defense of exploitation. Capitalis, it is true that if I have a skill to produce cell phone but not capital then I need to find a venture capitalist.

We can create a company where I can have shares, which makes me own the product as well. I can sell my idea to him, which makes him own the product. Or I can work in his company on the mutually capitalisj upon wages.

May be I can start as a worker and with few successful ventures I could have enough capital to do my own business. There are numerous examples like owners of Microsoft, Apple capitaliem CEO JobsGoogle, Facebook who were not born with capital but they paved their way into it because they had the skill and determination to last the distance.

The venture capitalist is willing to share a larger portion of his profits with the engineer because the latter has something unique such as a special talent or a patented idea that the venture capitalist cannot or does not find elsewhere.

This gives the engineer in your example an extra strength from which to negotiate. In the vast majority of cases, however, workers are easily replaceable. A substantial portion of the work force is always unemployed, ready to take the jobs of any workers who find the terms of their employment unbearably unfair or exploitative. The fact that they are easily replaceable is precisely what prevents the employed workers from making too many demands.


In effect, the vast majority of workers can never be in the same position as the engineer in your example to negotiate their terms and conditions with the owners of the capital.

The Nature and Logic of Capitalism by Robert L. Heilbroner (Norton: $15.95; 215 pp.)

What about the possibility that a worker may succeed in starting his or her own business? In terms of percentages, it is a highly rare occurrence, which is why it does nothing to alleviate the fundamental inequality between classes. Studies have shown that the vast majority of people who are born in poor families never get out of poverty, and that this is not because of any lack of effort on their part.

Regardless of how skilled or hard-working I may be, the commodity I produce through my labor is always considered the legal property of those who own the machines, land, tools, and raw material. Workers, so long as they are employees and not the owners of capital, have no legal basis to claim a share in the profits lovic a vote in how the business is to be run. A sorely needed reflection that is terribly wanting in the Muslim discourse.

Heilbroner is quite disappointing in tracing the provenance of the capitalist mindset to individualist psychological origins. Individualist dynamic need not be discounted for without it there would be no basis at all naturs the said mentality.

Hence, the antidote is not only individualist but, really, social. Modern capitalism is corporate-o-cracy, Where corporations are individuals and their growth depends on group of individuals and investors.

Then we have public and private corporations. Public corporations are more influencing as compared to private and at the end consumers who direct the corporations to produce of their demands.

Consumers who remain submissive but with elusive natrue of minor gains and material. Modern psychology and natural selection has some relevance where in tribal societies males used to have as much mates bearing offsprings to have more strength, power and influence.

The more power one have more survival scares one have which in turns lead to gain more power. The answer lies in human nature which needs more scrutiny.

For Heilbroner, capital is not synonymous with wealth. As soon as wealth leaves this circuit, it ceases to be capital.

The Nature and Logic of Capitalism by Robert L. Heilbroner

Unlike wealth, capital is not a thing; it is a social process. Thank you for this book summary.

My nagure thoughts on this topic: You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new comments via email.

The Nature and Logic of Capitalism

Aigoual mountain, Cevennes, South of France; B. Allow me to quote Heilbroner at length: Leave a Reply Cancel reply Enter your comment here Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Email required Address never made public. Post was not sent – check your email natude Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by email.