The Academy's 'New' Anti-Capitalism

Today’s New York Times celebrates the rise of a new group of historians of capitalism, led by Harvard’s Sven Beckert, that focuses on “the bosses, bankers and brokers who run the economy” rather than the people at the bottom of the heap, who had been the focus of a previous generation of revisionist economic historians.

I happen to have sat in on one of Beckert’s lectures at Harvard. When my then-girlfriend (now my wife) told me that Beckert was teaching students a grossly distorted version of the history of capitalism, I decided to see for myself. I was treated to a diatribe on how the Internet, far from being a place where individual inventors created new technology through entrepreneurship, was a government creation from start to finish.

This at a college where Mark Zuckerberg (and friends) had invented Facebook, where Bill Gates figured out how to program personal computers in his freshman dorm room. It’s not you, kids–it’s your government.

Identifying myself as a law student, I raised my hand to challenge one of Beckert’s points–he had claimed that Harvard Law School trains students in “union-busting”–and he immediately backed down. But one of his teaching assistants, a fellow law student, took me on, asserting that half the students in her labor law class would end up working for the management side of labor disputes. Hence “union-busting.” Okay.

Beckert is a charlatan, training young people to hate the system that created the prosperity they enjoy, the well-endowed university they inhabit, the future jobs that will pay their bills, the future selves they will become. Of the many poisonous left-wing dogmas on campus–identity politics, anti-Israel extremism, etc.–anti-capitalism is the worst and the most demoralizing, because it gives life to the others. I can’t speak to the “scholarship” of the rest of Beckert’s cohort, but it’s no surprise to see the New York Times cheering them.

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