The Mystery of Capital - Chapter 1

An extract from Hernando de Soto''s revolutionary new book, The Mystery of Capital: why capitalism works in the West but fails everywhere else.
á


The key problem is to find out why that sector of society of the past, which I would not hesitate to call capitalist, should have lived as if in a bell jar, cut off from the rest; why was it not able to expand and conquer the whole of society? ... [Why was it that] a significant rate of capital formation was possible only in certain sectors and not in the whole market economy of the time?

The hour of capitalismÆs greatest triumph is its hour of crisis.

The fall of the Berlin Wall ended more than a century of political competition between capitalism and communism. Capitalism stands alone as the only feasible way rationally toá organize a modern economy. At this moment in history, no responsible nation has a choice. As a result, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, Third World and former communist nations have balanced their budgets, cut subsidies, welcomed foreign investment and dropped their tariff barriers.

Their efforts have been repaid with bitter disappointment. From Russia to Venezuela, the past half-decade has been a time of economic suffering, tumbling incomes, anxiety and resentment; of æstarving, rioting and lootingÆ, in the stinging words of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. In a recent editorial the New York Times said: æFor much of the world, the marketplace extolled by the West in the afterglow of victory in the Cold War has been supplanted by the cruelty of markets, wariness towards capitalism and dangers of instability.Æ The triumph of capitalism only in the West could be a recipe for economic and political disaster.

For Americans enjoying both peace and prosperity, it has been all too easy to ignore the turmoil elsewhere. How can capitalism be in trouble when the Dow Jones Industrial average is climbing higher than Sir Edmund Hillary? Americans look at other nations and see progress, even if it is slow and uneven. CanÆt you eat a Big Mac in Moscow, rent a Blockbuster video in Shanghai, and reach the Internet in Caracas?

Even in the United States, however, the foreboding cannot be completely stifled. Americans see Colombia poised on the brink of a major civil war between drug-trafficking guerrillas and repressive militias; an intractable insurgency in the south of Mexico; an important part of AsiaÆs force-fed economic growth draining away into corruption and chaos. In Latin America sympathy for free markets is dwindling: concretely, by May 2000 support for privatization had dropped from 46 per cent of the population to 36 per cent. Most ominously of all, in the former communist nations capitalism has been found wanting, and men associated with old regimes stand poised to resume power. Some Americans sense, too, that one reason for their decade-long boom is that the more precarious the rest of the world looks, the more attractive American stocks and bonds become as a haven for international money.

á

á
á
The Mystery of Capital