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Reply Thu, March 4, 2010

Duran Bell

The term wealth is so firmly embedded in the connotations of "valuables" that I think a new scientific term for your definitions will serve much better. I for one would start using it immediately, as in a distinguished lecture I am giving in 3 weeks at Notre Dame. This may help clarify distinctions usages that are also confusing as among types of capital. How, exactly, then, are the two terms to be related in your usage?

Proposed scientific concept, Thu, March 4, 2010 7:48 pm

Subject: wealth=power-asset To: "Doug White" <>

I am considering finding a new term to displace "wealth" in my discussions. It would appear that people (you included) are unwilling to abandon their common speech use of the term in a scientific discussion. So, I was wondering what you thought of "power-asset". There is no common connotation to that, yet it gets at the root of the matter. Wealth, in my discussions is not a "valuable" such as a golden candelabra, etc. It is something at satisfies four necessary and sufficient conditions, for which fertility (human and animal) land and capital are potentially applicable. And even these things may fail in a particular context.

They are power-assets because (if they satisfy the 4 conditions) their rates of growth over an indefinite time horizon define the ability of one society to survive and perhaps dominate others. Hence, they are foundational to social evolution--the survival of the fittest. Furthermore, even when the conditions are satisfied, there may be a variety of social technologies by which they are articulated. For example, a variety of agrarian formations by which land, as a power-asset, can be managed.

Well, how does the term strike you?



The English Revolution and the transition from feudalism to capitalism A review of R Brenner, Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict and London's Overseas Traders, 1550-1653. Issue 63 of INTERNATIONAL SOCIALISM JOURNAL Published Summer 1994 Copyright International Socialism (Cambridge University Press, 1993). pdf

Duran Bell

Northern Italian merchants

From: "Duran Bell" <> Date: Mon, March 1, 2010 9:14 pm To: "Doug White" <> Options: View Full Header | View Printable Version | Download this as a file | View Message details | View as HTML


I have been looking into the situation of the city-states of Italy and my suspicion was sustained. The fact of being successful elements of a medieval feudal structture, these states inhibited the development of national states in Italy and hence led to Italy's failure to become a real player in the mercantile period that followed the 13th century. I had not known that these cities were equivalent to feudal lords. They held control over the surrounding countrysides as sources of food etc and subordinated the aristocracy. North of the Alps this did not happen; the lords remained strong and controlled the cities, so that when national unification was in their interest, they were ready.

I think that this all means that the Italian merchants and their cities of the early medieval period were barriers to capitalist development, not positive elements. They were much too dependent on the Old Regime.

take a look at the paper linked below.

Cities, “city-states,” and regional states in north-central Italy 期刊Theory and Society<> 出版社Springer Netherlands ISSN0304-2421 (Print) 1573-7853 (Online) 期Volume 18, Number 5 / 1989年9月<> DOI10.1007/BF00149497 页689-706 学科分类人文、社科和法律<> SpringerLink Date2004年11月8日

I am still using a chinese computer, so pardon the Chinese ....

England 17th c merchants

Hey Man.

I am continuing my reading of the transition to capitalism. The indications are that the merchants of the Levant, who are central to your thoughts, were dedicated to the preservation of the traditional system and in opposition to those changes that initiated the process of moving toward capitalism. Key to understanding this is to drop the notion that trading, both domestic and long distance, constitutes capitalism or even as a precursor of capitalism. The Big Merchants are part of most hierarchical agrarian systems, serving the needs of the elites of those systems and, hence in opposition to social changes that would weaken the power of those traditional elites. Brenner argues that it was the New Merchants who were closer to the local shopkeeper class, who fought against your big guys from the Levant (dw: Levant company) and helped to establish new rules of the game.

An elevation of the role of merchants is important to capitalistic ideology that claims that capitalism has always existed to some degree. They suggest that capitalism is buying and selling--a process that we can see within slave and feudal systems as well as capitalism. What the bourgeois ideology accomplishes is to remove the "direct producers" from consideration. They will scream in horror at the assertion that wage labor is a basic element, claiming that this is Marxist. In fact, however, capitalist ideologies really deny the existence of capitalism as a system that arose at some historical point, apparently because such a suggestion implies that it might someday not exist anymore.

I am attaching a review of a book that beautifully discusses the transition. The reviewed book is available online at UCLA library link. But check out this review.

The discussion focuses on England, which is where most people locate the key initiation of capitalist forms. (DW: But see *Erikson, Emily and Peter S. Bearman. 2006 Malfeasance and the Foundations for Global Trade: The Structure of English Trade in the East Indies, 1601–1833 American Journal of Sociology (2006) 112(1):195-230. The key idea is that the "sea captains" mentioned by Brenner and Manning over and again engage in malfeasance and trade on their own after "missing" the monsoon for their return. Their voyages are so dense that a prices begin to reach equilibrium.)

I know that you enjoy the network of traders notion. But if we are to advance our understanding of the evolution of social forms, we can't stay with that. The real problem is to find the factors that led to the breakdown of the traditional agrarian system. Rather, we see that land owners were no longer able to maintain traditional relations with peasants. The rise of towns was no doubt a contributing factor to their loss of control under the old rules. But they found a new mode of control by using money-rents and eventually wages paid in money.

The thing that I see here is that the movement toward wage receiving labor began in agriculture and local handicraft, so when industrialization began this wage mechanism was already spreading. It is the combination of wage labor and industry that defines capitalism. A true working class could not arise naturally but required a forced separation of workers from the land, but at least the alternative to the traditional system was right there in front of them.

We must define capitalism as a particular mode of wealth accumulation. Capitalism features capital as the form of wealth--satisfying my four criteria of essential wealth characteristics; valuables collected by merchants do not. You must abandon the vernacular use of terms which are dedicated to an an understanding of the contemporary and which severely confuse the study of preindustrial forms. .

Look forward to your comments.