In This Review

Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World
Capitalism, Alone: The Future of the System That Rules the World
By Branko Milanovic
304 pp, Harvard University Press, 2019

This fascinating book offers a big-picture view of economic and social history over the past two centuries. As a system for organizing economies and societies, capitalism has won and has no rival. It provides more prosperity with a modicum of freedom than any other system. But the author distinguishes several competing kinds of capitalism. He focuses on two variants: liberal meritocratic capitalism, embodied by the United States, and political (authoritarian) capitalism, embodied by China. The latter, which boasts good bureaucrats but lacks the rule of law, carries the possibly fatal flaw of inherent corruption. Milanovic makes the compelling argument that communism brought much of the developing world out of feudalism and into the modern world without developing an industrial middle class, as capitalism did in Europe and North America. But the factors that helped produce higher standards of living for industrial workers in the West—trade unions, mass education, and progressive taxation and transfers—have receded in recent decades. The author hopes for a future defined by what he calls “people’s capitalism,” in which the economy isn’t so skewed to the advantage of those who own capital at the expense of those who make a living through their labor. But Milanovic is not confident that a more equal capitalism will emerge.