The best books that move beyond capitalism

Who am I?

My interest in political economy dates back to my student years where I combined the study of the history of political economy, economics, and philosophy. Whether apologists or critics of capitalism, both groups appreciate the centrality of economic exchange among people who live in communities where absolute autonomy and self-sufficiency are unattainable. My concern with reframing political economy is also informed by the all too hushed scandal of capitalism, namely, the reliance on slavery for the accumulation of wealth for more than a century after the establishment of the USA. The reckoning with this atrocity animates much of my present thinking about political economy in general and capitalism in particular.  


I wrote...

The Quest for Prosperity: Reframing Political Economy

By Raphael Sassower,

Book cover of The Quest for Prosperity: Reframing Political Economy

What is my book about?

Envisioning a different mode of economic relations requires a rethinking of the classical frames of references we commonly take for granted. The implicit assumptions that we carry into critical debates are the stumbling blocks for finding useful solutions to age-old economic problems. And these impediments constrict our political imagination.

This book asks what are these frames of references? How many of them are worthy of retaining, while others might be discarded? And what new framings should be adopted in order to bring about a less crisis-prone and morally acceptable mode of human interaction? Each chapter interrogates a different frame of reference, including culturally-embedded concepts of human nature, scarcity and abundance, markets, and the human condition.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time

Raphael Sassower Why did I love this book?

Polanyi’s book is a classic treatment of the relationship between economics (or the economy) and the legal and political frameworks that allow it to work. Historically informed and well documented, Polanyi makes the argument that market capitalism (without any intervention and regulation) not only does not work as smoothly as expected, but causes hardships for a great many participants.

By Karl Polanyi,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Great Transformation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this classic work of economic history and social theory, Karl Polanyi analyzes the economic and social changes brought about by the "great transformation" of the Industrial Revolution. His analysis explains not only the deficiencies of the self-regulating market, but the potentially dire social consequences of untempered market capitalism. New introductory material reveals the renewed importance of Polanyi's seminal analysis in an era of globalization and free trade.


Book cover of The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths

Raphael Sassower Why did I love this book?

Mazzucato points out that the great technological breakthroughs we enjoy in the 21st century were not, despite propaganda to that effect, the result of corporate R&D, but instead were underwritten by the US government and its various agencies. This means that the government takes enormous financial risks, such as developing the Internet, GPS, and other technologies, while corporate America enjoys the fruit of these risks by licensing patents owned by the government.    

By Mariana Mazzucato,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Entrepreneurial State as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this sharp and controversial expose, Mariana Mazzucato debunks the pervasive myth that the state is a laggard, bureaucratic apparatus at odds with a dynamic private sector. She reveals in detailed case studies, including a riveting chapter on the iPhone, that the opposite is true: the state is, and has been, our boldest and most valuable innovator. Denying this history is leading us down the wrong path. A select few get credit for what is an intensely collective effort, and the US government has started disinvesting from innovation. The repercussions could stunt economic growth and increase inequality. Mazzucato teaches us…


Book cover of Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World

Raphael Sassower Why did I love this book?

In an accessible language and with multiple real-life examples, Madrick systematically critically engages every humdrum idea of principle attributed to the presumed success of capitalism. Following to a great extent Karl Marx’s lead on the self-destruction of the economic system we call capitalism, Madrick updates the critique to the 21st century and shows, time and again, why capitalism is not only prone to recessions and depressions but will bring about its own demise.

By Jeff Madrick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Seven Bad Ideas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A bold indictment of some of our most accepted mainstream economic theories—why they’re wrong, and how they’ve been harming America and the world.

Budget deficits are bad. A strong dollar is good. Controlling inflation is paramount. Pay reflects greater worker skills. A deregulated free market is fair and effective. Theories like these have become mantras among American economists both liberal and conservative over recent decades. Validated originally by patron saints like Milton Friedman, they’ve assumed the status of self-evident truths across much of the mainstream. Jeff Madrick, former columnist for The New York Times and Harper’s, argues compellingly that a…


Book cover of Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy

Raphael Sassower Why did I love this book?

Lessig’s book argues that the pretense we live in America in a capitalist economy that follows the rules of the markets, with profit maximization and copyright protection (dating back to the Constitution), is by now completely discarded. Focusing on the entertainment industry and the arts, Lessig illustrates the limits of such thinking given the conduct of millions who download music, films, and videos without permission and continue to “remix” them within the legal limits of “fair use.”   

By Lawrence Lessig,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Remix as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The reigning authority on intellectual property in the Internet age, Lawrence Lessig spotlights the newest and possibly the most harmful culture — a war waged against those who create and consume art. America's copyright laws have ceased to perform their original, beneficial role: protecting artists' creations while allowing them to build on previous creative works. In fact, our system now criminalizes those very actions. Remix is an urgent, eloquent plea to end a war that harms every intrepid, creative user of new technologies. It also offers an inspiring vision of the postwar world where enormous opportunities await those who view…


Book cover of The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation

Raphael Sassower Why did I love this book?

With numerous examples that range from comedy clubs, football strategies, recipes, and the fashion industry, this book explains how the myth of copyright protection as the hallmark of market capitalism makes no sense. Instead of the argument that the only way to incentivize people to invent and create, what this book outlines is the many cases in which not only this is not the case but instead a robust competitive environment thrives without capitalist ways of thinking. Notions of creative cooperation make up for ruthless competition, and the expectation of legal protection only shows that without regulatory powers market forces cannot function. 

By Kal Raustiala, Christopher Sprigman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Knockoff Economy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the shopping mall to the corner bistro, knockoffs are everywhere in today's marketplace. Conventional wisdom holds that copying kills creativity, and that laws that protect against copies are essential to innovation-and economic success. But are copyrights and patents always necessary? In The Knockoff Economy, Kal Raustiala and Christopher Sprigman provocatively argue that creativity can not only survive in the face of copying, but can thrive.

The Knockoff Economy approaches the question of incentives and innovation in a wholly new way-by exploring creative fields where copying is generally legal, such as fashion, food, and even professional football. By uncovering these…


You might also like...

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

Book cover of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

Ashley Rubin Author Of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

New book alert!

Who am I?

I have been captivated by the study of prisons since my early college years. The fact that prisons are so new in human history still feels mind-blowing to me. I used to think that prisons have just always been around, but when you realize they are actually new, that has major implications. This is nowhere more clear than at the beginning: how hard it was to get to the point where prisons made sense to people, to agree on how prisons should be designed and managed, and to keep on the same path when prisons very quickly started to fail. It’s still puzzling to me.

Ashley's book list on the origins of American prisons

What is my book about?

What were America's first prisons like? How did penal reformers, prison administrators, and politicians deal with the challenges of confining human beings in long-term captivity as punishment--what they saw as a humane intervention?

The Deviant Prison centers on one early prison: Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in Philadelphia, one of the leading cities for penal reform, Eastern ultimately defied national norms and was the subject of intense international criticism.

The Deviant Prison traces the rise and fall of Eastern's unique "Pennsylvania System" of solitary confinement and explores how and why Eastern's administrators kept the system going, despite great personal cost to themselves. Anyone interested in history, prisons, and criminal justice will find something to enjoy in this book.

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

What is this book about?

Early nineteenth-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, the majority of prisons in the United States had adopted the Auburn system - the only exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, making it the subject of much criticism and a fascinating outlier. Using the Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, The Deviant Prison brings to light…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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