Monday, February 6, 2012

Towards an economic theory of capitalism - MACRO supply and demand

This afternoon I discovered an interesting publication on the web entitled 'Tragedy and Hope - A History of the World in our Time'. It was published in 1966 by professor Carrol Quigley (an American historian and theorist of the evolution of civilizations) who taught at Georgetown University in the US in the 1960s and is reported to be a mentor for former US President Bill Clinton.

Within the pages of 'Tragedy and Hope' Quigley has articulated an essential aspect of the behaviour of money versus goods between geographical areas in the capitalist context:

“Capitalism, because it seems profits as its primary goal, is never primarily seeking to achieve prosperity, high production, high consumption, political power, patriotic improvement, or moral uplift. Goods moved from low-price areas to high-price areas and money moved from high-price areas to low-price areas because goods were more valuable where prices were high and money was more valuable where prices were low. Thus, clearly, money and goods are not the same thing but are, on the contrary, exactly opposite things. Most confusion in economic thinking arises from failure to recognize this fact. Goods are wealth which you have, while money is a claim on wealth which you do not have. Thus goods are an asset; money is a debt. If goods are wealth; money is non-wealth, or negative wealth, or even anti-wealth.”[*]

In these times the truth of the above statement appears obvious. Cheap goods are definitely moving from low-priced areas in China and South East Asia (in particular) to fully-industrialised nations where they fetch a much higher price. Money, in the form of capital, has been flowing out of the rich western nations and moving to the 'low-priced areas' around the globe.

The trouble is, that although Quigley's theory has the strong ring of truth to it, his theory contradicts the basic micro-economic theory of supply and demand. Foundational economic teachings have made it clear that it is the demand for individual goods that are impacted by price level, and that the price level is (largely) set by the level of consumer demand. However, Quigley writes about a wide range of goods in a particular geographic areas and not about any particular good.

I assume, therefore, that Quigley is implying that international currency manipulation is a key part of the operations of the world capitalist system. A low value for domestic currency makes goods (and services) cheaper for international buyers, and vice versa.

Capitalism's foundation therefore must rely on processes of unequal exchange where the 'price mechanism' for goods is largely determined by the relative value of the currency they are purchased in.

"It is quite impossible to understand the history of the twentieth century without some understanding of the role played by money in domestic affairs and in foreign affairs, as well as the role played by bankers in economic life and in political life" is Quigley's understatement.

Deregulation did not turn out to be 'no regulation' after all. It appears to have simply meant leaving the management of the world economy largely to the whims of a global and organised cartel of private banks (ie the central banks).

"The power of the State must be invoked for restoring economic freedom just as it has been invoked for destroying economic freedom."
Hilaire Belloc, The Restoration of Property, 1936


Quigley ‘Tragedy and Hope’ 1966.

Also see:

Finance leaders fail to resolve currency dispute

Martin Crutsinger, Saturday, October 9, 2010, Associated Press


Myrtle Blackwood said...

Read Paul Volker's speech of 9th November 1978. Governments (of Europe, UK and US) have been deeply involved in the disintegration of the global economy through the process of selective deregulation. I will try to incorporate the establishment of UNIDO and the efforts to stop 'integration' in the world economy by the Trilateral Commision in this article at a later date.

1978 – November 9th. Paul Volcker delivered the Fred Hirsch Memorial Lecture at Warwich University in England [entitled ‘The Political Economy of the Dollar’]. He stated: "A controlled disintegration in the world economy is a legitimate object for the 1980s." Freeman adds, "it was not by chance that starting the week of Oct. 6-12, 1979, Volcker began raising interest rates, by raising the federal funds rate and increasing certain categories of reserve requirements for commercial banks. He kept pushing rates upward, until, by December 1980, the prime lending rate of U.S. commercial banks reached 21.5%." [BR: see references to the Bonn Summit of July 1978 where the US agreed to reduce its dependence on imported oil in exchange for growth abroad.]

Volcker’s speech at:

CMike said...

Typo alert.

“Capitalism, because it seeks profits...

At the moment, I'm not able to connect to that pdf source you give. The rest of the paragraph cited in your post following that thesis sentence is quite different from the one found under the "The Primary Goal of Capitalism" heading in the Chapter 5 section at the link in this comment.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

CMike, I have re-opened the link to Quigley's 'Tragedy and Hope' at

The quote I mentioned is on page 43 and 44.

The document doesn't contain the paragraph found at your link, where it states:

"Capitalism, because it seeks profits as its primary goal, is never primarily seeking to achieve prosperity, high production, high consumption, political power, patriotic improvement, or moral uplift. Any of these may be achieved under capitalism, and any (or all) of them may he sacrificed and lost under capitalism, depending on this relationship to the primary goal of capitalist activity—the pursuit of profits. During the nine-hundred-year history of capitalism, it has, at various times, contributed both to the achievement and to the destruction of these other social goals."

The author there appears to have incorporated his/her own thoughts.

Quigley is definitely focused on the banking system and bankers.

CMike said...

Thanks Brenda R. for the response.

The excerpt you quoted so impressed me I'm sure I'll be pasting it in comments at some other site in the future. That's why I wanted to get it right.

I see on a second, lengthier page devoted to Quigley's Tragedy and Hope at the site I came upon earlier, in the Chapter 5 section here, the lines you quoted do appear. Except for the spliced in headers I think the site faithfully reproduces selected excerpts.

Thanks for bringing this discussion to my attention. I'll certainly be pulling the book off the shelf to take a closer look at the text if it is available at a library around here. At 1300 plus pages though, I just don't think it's going to end up on my reading list.