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  • Paul Johnson, London School of Economics and Political Science
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Book description

Corporate capitalism was invented in nineteenth-century Britain; most of the market institutions that we take for granted today - limited companies, shares, stock markets, accountants, financial newspapers - were Victorian creations. So were the moral codes, the behavioural assumptions, the rules of thumb and the unspoken agreements that made this market structure work. This innovative study provides the first integrated analysis of the origin of these formative capitalist institutions, and reveals why they were conceived and how they were constructed. It explores the moral, economic and legal assumptions that supported this formal institutional structure, and which continue to shape the corporate economy of today. Tracing the institutional growth of the corporate economy in Victorian Britain and demonstrating that many of the perceived problems of modern capitalism - financial fraud, reckless speculation, excessive remuneration - have clear historical precedents, this is a major contribution to the economic history of modern Britain.


‘Paul Johnson brings a novelist’s eye for character and incident in the tradition of Dickens and Trollope to Victorian commercial life. His acute observations of human foible is complemented by the analytical precision of a social scientist to produce a major study of the market in Victorian Britain. Far from the abstraction or neutrality of neo-classical economics, he shows how the market was permeated with differences of status between rich and poor, between capital and labour. It involved social choices about the desirability or acceptability of various modes of economic conduct, which are as relevant now in the age of Bernie Madoff as of Melmotte.’

Martin Daunton - Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge and author of Trusting Leviathan

‘Paul Johnson brings his precise analytical skills and acerbic wit to bear on the prime question of our time – how can personal responsibility be brought into the operation of impersonal capitalism now dominated by global corporations? Blending tales of outrageous frauds perpetrated at the commanding heights of Victorian England with sorry examples of the harsh penalties that the lower classes continued to suffer for their infractions, Johnson argues that each stage of the creation of corporate capitalism went astray by increasingly leaving personal responsibility behind for corporate managers and promoters. Sadly, the unintended consequences of those missteps are with us today.’

Larry Neal - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Source: The Times Higher Education Supplement

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