I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about business or economics since I finished my university degree more than 20 years ago. Not that I’m allergic to the topic, but I much rather consume that kind of information through the press, radio or magazines. When I saw this very, very thin book (a mere 80 pages) by Bernard Maris, whom I used to listen to in the French national radio, I thought that I could go out of my comfort zone, but that wouldn’t be too difficult a stretch.
Bernard Maris is well-known in France for sad reasons. He was an economist but also a journalist and he was one member of the staff of Charlie Hebdo who were assassinated by terrorists in Jan. 2015. The book is the published version of a speech he made. As you can guess from his working at Charlie Hebdo, he was indeed not a conservative. In this book he highlights the way capitalism has changed the way people lived and worked since the beginning of times: it changed the way people consider time, labor, technique and nature. He goes back to the origin of history, before capitalism, and shows that trade and labor existed before capitalism, but were deeply impacted by it. The essay is short but full of concepts and reflections, full of references like Max Weber, Freud, Nietzsche, etc.: indeed Maris’ conception was larger than just economy.
It’s hard to have a critical position with such a short text: either you were already convinced or you were not, but this opus will not make you change your mind. I enjoy how Maris’ train of thoughts flows and jumps from one fact or theory to the next, how the continuum of human history becomes meaningful thanks to his concepts. I also appreciate that he explains different possible future for capitalism, and not all of them negative, which I was not expecting. Yes, Maris is rather pessimistic about capitalism, but he still keeps the door open.
I enjoyed this short foray into economic theory. Some time ago, I had borrowed from the library a much more ambitious liberal economic theory: Thomas Piketty’s Capitalism in the 21st century, but it was clearly beyond my grasp (and almost 1000 pages!) and I returned it unread but for the first chapter. As I start to think about next year’s reading goals, should I try and read something in the middle?