Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Mark Martinez's book traces the historical roots of capitalism to the present day. He argues convincingly that free markets have never existed in either western Europe or North America. Instead, markets as they pertain to capitalist economies have been the result of conscious decision-making on the part of political regimes to facilitate them. The book begins with western Europe's need for money to fund its wars, and so in those days of early capitalism, what were developing into European nation-states began to tax and control the merchants, eventually relying heavily on the hard work of these merchants to support these nation-states. The book then shows how this relationship between merchants led to a rising middle class, which even enlarged in especially Britain and later in the United States with the industrial era. Specific policy decisions on behalf of European governments and the United States are reviewed, and the book concludes with the post-industrial era's latest trend to deregulate from 1970 to the present day, roughly, all the major business interests in the United States that had once safeguarded against poor decision-making on behalf of, for example, Wall Street folk, among others, who have, fairly recently, done such as buy and sell and resell America's debt to create bubbles of capital accumulation. The book is perceptive, fairly short, and worthy of purchase.

Billie's Review
Posted on Good Reads / February 8, 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Below is a book review penned by Dr. Robert J. Barney. The review provides insight into what you can expect from my book and was originally published in the journal, Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations. The journal review can be accessed here  (firewall may apply).


For over 30 years, free market ideology has experienced increasing influence in economic policy. Free market advocates emphasize the self-regulating nature of the market in establishing fair pricing, efficiency, and maximizing profits. According to this ideology, government intervention in markets is tantamount to interference, drains society’s resources, and contributes to economic inefficiency. The Myth of the Free Market refutes these claims by discussing “the dominant role of state in making markets work” (p. 4). The focus of Martinez’s work is to provide the reader with historical examples of state initiatives and interventions that have contributed to shaping the economy and that have often allowed markets to prosper.

Part one of the book provides an examination of individuals typically associated with free market thought, including Milton Friedman and Adam Smith. Perhaps the most compelling arguments relate to the government’s pivotal role in establishing justice for all, not only in the political arena, but also within the market. Martinez argues that the government’s role is to tame oppressive forms of power that prohibit some from participation in capitalist economies, an idea that is contrasted against the minimized “umpiring” role of the state that Friedman emphasized. What is central to the thesis is that the “laws of justice”, which Adam Smith saw as necessary for market functioning, are violated on a regular basis as a result of greed. Timely examples are provided relating to how exuberance and the irrationality of the market led to recent bubbles, and ultimately the 2007–2008 credit crisis.

As the reader moves into parts two and three, a wide variety of historical examples are used to establish the central role of government in a capitalist economy. This discussion includes the development of economies during the Middle Ages, with references to hereditary powers that used political organization for personal economic gain. The role of war, the Renaissance’s emphasis on reasoning and investigation, and the rise of democracy are also described as forces that shaped economic policy, the development of capitalist markets, and ultimately the middle class. Perhaps some of Martinez’s most persuasive discussions include his focus on markets during the twentieth century, including the development of the international financial system. A strong case is made for how the modern global economy did not evolve arbitrarily by means of an invisible hand, but instead was the result of deliberate political intervention.

Part four of the book contains a shift in emphasis, focusing on recent growth in deregulation and a culture of deficit spending in the US economy. Contrary to what the reader might expect, Martinez does not conclude by proliferating on the moral certitude of political forces in ensuring the success of the market. Instead, the author addresses the dichotomous roles of the state throughout history, which has involved both the protection of citizens from oppression in the market, as well as the fostering a culture of debt and market euphoria. Without proper economic intervention strategies, the state has the ability to not only prevent economic failures, but also promote them.

The Myth of the Free Market is strongly recommended for both academics and non-academics with interest in economic policy. Although each of the examples used makes a strong case for the central role of the state in capitalist markets, Martinez’s breadth of historical references does risk losing the reader in diversity of material. However, references to the recent global economic crisis are timely, prompting the reader’s active engagement with the material. Although not unique when compared to other works critical of free market ideology, Martinez’s attention to issues of social justice also represents strength of the writing.

In addition to teaching and his other academic related activities Dr. Robert J. Barney is Associate Research Director and Principal Investigator at the Kent School of Social Work, which is located at the University of Louisville.