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Varieties of Capitalism: Some Philosophical and Historical Considerations


  • Geoffrey M. Hodgson


The literature on varieties of capitalism has stimulated some authors to challenge notions of ‘essentialism’ and even the concept of capitalism itself. This essay argues that the existence of varieties of capitalism does not rule out the need for, or possibility of, specification or definition of that type. Accordingly, ‘capitalism’ is still a viable term. The critique of ‘essentialism’ is also countered, after clarifying its meaning. In particular, a suitably defined ‘essentialism’ does not imply some kind of ontological or explanatory reductionism—‘economic’ or otherwise. But while adopting what are basically Aristotelian arguments about essences, we need to reject Aristotle’s auxiliary notion that variety generally results from temporary deviations from a representative type or trend. Furthermore, capitalism is a historically specific and relatively recent system: we need to develop a classificatory definition of that system that demarcates it from other past or possible social formations.

Suggested Citation

  • Geoffrey M. Hodgson, 2016. "Varieties of Capitalism: Some Philosophical and Historical Considerations," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 40(3), pages 941-960.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:cambje:v:40:y:2016:i:3:p:941-960.

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Molyneaux, Lynette & Wagner, Liam & Froome, Craig & Foster, John, 2012. "Resilience and electricity systems: A comparative analysis," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 188-201.
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    5. John Foster & Phillip Wild, 1999. "Detecting self-organisational change in economic processes exhibiting logistic growth," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 9(1), pages 109-133.
    6. John Foster, 2011. "Evolutionary macroeconomics: a research agenda," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 21(1), pages 5-28, February.
    7. Dodgson, Mark & Hughes, Alan & Foster, John & Metcalfe, Stan, 2011. "Systems thinking, market failure, and the development of innovation policy: The case of Australia," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 40(9), pages 1145-1156.
    8. Jakob Madsen & James Ang & Rajabrata Banerjee, 2010. "Four centuries of British economic growth: the roles of technology and population," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 15(4), pages 263-290, December.
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