IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

What is capital? Economists and sociologists have changed its meaning: should it be changed back?

Listed author(s):
  • Geoffrey M. Hodgson

This article traces the historical usages of the term capital and the explosion of different types of supposed ‘capital’ in the twentieth century, including ‘human capital’ and ‘social capital’. In medieval and early modern times, capital meant money investable or invested in business. This meaning persists in business circles today. In contrast, Adam Smith treated physical assets, machines and people as ‘capital’ and this different usage has dominated economics since. The pre-Smithian meaning referred to money or other saleable assets that could be used as collateral. This article questions the change in meaning by economists and sociologists and highlights the importance of collateralisable property for capitalism. ‘Human capital’ can only be collateral if the humans involved are slaves. ‘Social capital’ can never be used as collateral and it is not even owned. These important issues are masked by the broadened notion of ‘capital’. Given the conceptual problems involved, economists and sociologists should consider returning to the pre-Smithian and surviving business usage of the term.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1093/cje/beu013
Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal Cambridge Journal of Economics.

Volume (Year): 38 (2014)
Issue (Month): 5 ()
Pages: 1063-1086

as
in new window

Handle: RePEc:oup:cambje:v:38:y:2014:i:5:p:1063-1086.
Contact details of provider: Postal:
Oxford University Press, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford OX2 6DP, UK

Fax: 01865 267 985
Web page: http://www.cje.oupjournals.org/
Email:

Order Information: Web: http://www.oup.co.uk/journals

No references listed on IDEAS
You can help add them by filling out this form.

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:oup:cambje:v:38:y:2014:i:5:p:1063-1086.. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Oxford University Press)

or (Christopher F. Baum)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.