Thinking about Capitalism

Course No. 5665
Professor Jerry Z. Muller, Ph.D.
The Catholic University of America
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Course No. 5665
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Course Overview

As the economic system under which you live, capitalism shapes the marketplaces that determine where you live and work, how much you are paid, what you can buy, what you can accumulate toward your retirement, and every other aspect of a society based on monetary exchanges for goods and services. In an era of increasing globalization, capitalism has dramatically strengthened its important role in—and its influence on—the world economy. It is the system under which a majority of the world's population lives, and it continues to strengthen the links of interdependence between the world's economies.

But capitalism's impact is about much more than money and markets. Indeed, capitalism is every bit as much a social force as an economic one. As such, its impact on noneconomic life has drawn the attention of thinkers outside of economics, as well as those inside the discipline, including some of its greatest minds.

In Thinking about Capitalism, award-winning intellectual historian and Professor Jerry Z. Muller of The Catholic University of America takes you deep inside the perspectives on this most important and pervasive force. Over 36 engaging lectures, you gain fresh insights that will strengthen your understanding of capitalism's rich history, its fascinating proponents and opponents, and its startling impact on our world.

An Exploration Beyond Economics

Drawing on his exceptional ability to frame each thinker's concerns within its historical context, Professor Muller takes you beyond economic analysis to look at how some of the greatest intellects have thought about capitalism and its moral, political, and cultural ramifications.

Covering capitalism from its 17th-century beginnings to today's era of globalization, Professor Muller explores these thinkers' insights on some wide-ranging questions:

  • What effect does capitalism have on personal development? Or on our identities as individuals, as members of a group, or even as citizens of a nation?
  • What about the seemingly unending variety of consumer goods made possible by capitalism? Have they made our culture better—or worse?
  • Do the facts support our tendency to think about capitalism as the economic system practiced in "free" countries? Or can capitalism exist in a wide variety of political systems?

As capitalism continues to expand across geographical borders, provocative questions emerge about its overall impact. What are the short- and long-term implications of globalization? How and when should we construct economic policies to strengthen or limit its growth? Can capitalism ever undermine itself?

By placing capitalism in its full societal context, Thinking about Capitalism enhances your ability to consider, discuss, and answer these and other critical questions—whatever your point of view.

Get Insights from Three Centuries of Thinkers

For almost three centuries, some of the most interesting thinkers in history have grappled with capitalism. They have explored its key features, cultural prerequisites, and human implications with excitement, caution, or even fear.

Their writings have defended capitalism, argued against it, disagreed over how to characterize it, and questioned whether the human costs incurred in its practice can be outweighed by the obvious material benefits it brings.

These are some of the great minds you encounter in these lectures:

  • Adam Smith: Although famous for The Wealth of Nations, this giant of the Enlightenment was in fact a moral philosopher and political economist whose ideas about capitalism, capitalists, and government exploded past any boundaries of "economics."
  • Joseph Schumpeter: One of capitalism's most wide-ranging thinkers, Schumpeter published four books, at least three of which are considered seminal.
  • Ferdinand Tönnies and Georg Simmel: Tönnies argued that modern history was moving away from tightly knit communities at emotional cost to the individual, while Simmel explored how capitalism offered new possibilities for individuality and community.
  • Friedrich von Hayek: After a flirtation with reformist Socialism, Hayek embraced classical Liberalism, producing influential critiques of collectivism and the welfare state, sharing a Nobel Prize in economics, and winning broad acknowledgment for his work on the coordinating function of the marketplace.

These names only scratch the surface of the grand intellects Professor Muller discusses, who include Voltaire, Rousseau, Burke, Hamilton, De Tocqueville, Hegel, Marx, Arnold, Weber, Lenin, Schmitt, Marcuse, Gellner, Buchanan, and Olson.

Their insights can prove invaluable in every area of your life. They can surface in the decisions you make about family, work, and consumption; and they can give you a more thoughtful perspective on the ideas and behaviors of commentators, corporations, and governments.

A Fascinating Journey Led by an Ideal Teacher

An intellectual historian, Professor Muller takes you from capitalism's beginnings in commercial Holland and England to the challenges of nationalism, globalization, and contemporary varieties of capitalism.

Genial and disarming, he connects the dots from idea to idea, thinker to thinker. In Thinking about Capitalism, you can finally grasp the history and the concepts of this vital economic system, as well as its importance on the global economic stage and in your own life.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Why Think about Capitalism?
    You consider how capitalism works, its political prerequisites, and its political, moral, and cultural ramifications through key elements of capitalism and its origins. x
  • 2
    The Greek and Christian Traditions
    You learn how modern Western intellectuals have evaluated capitalism by starting with the two great premodern traditions: the civic republican tradition and the Christian tradition. x
  • 3
    Hobbes's Challenge to the Traditions
    Hobbes criticized these traditions, emphasizing happiness in this world as the goal of government and refuting the notion that government exists to guide us to some shared purpose or highest ideal. x
  • 4
    Dutch Commerce and National Power
    In the 17th century, the Dutch Republic provided an example of a highly commercial society of increasing power, leading European thinkers to reformulate civic republicanism in a more commercial direction. x
  • 5
    Capitalism and Toleration—Voltaire
    In his Letters on England (1734), Voltaire argued that commerce provides a means for people of different orientations to cooperate. x
  • 6
    Abundance or Equality—Voltaire vs. Rousseau
    Enlightenment thinkers debated the moral status of material well-being. Voltaire argued that the abundance created by commerce was the basis of civilization. Rousseau countered that material progress had increased inequality and undermined virtue. x
  • 7
    Seeing the Invisible Hand—Adam Smith
    In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith explained how a competitive market could channel self-interest into socially beneficial directions. x
  • 8
    Smith on Merchants, Politicians, Workers
    Smith argued that capitalism diverged from his competitive model, with each economic group trying to use its political power to promote its own interest. He urged policymakers to promote competitive markets that served the general interest. x
  • 9
    Smith on the Problems of Commercial Society
    Smith's influence was probably greatest in arguing against government's direct economic involvement, but Smith, in fact, believed that a well-functioning government was the only source of many essential functions for a commercial society. x
  • 10
    Smith on Moral and Immoral Capitalism
    You explore Smith's views on how a capitalist society could make people better and better off—but that lack of the rule of law, or inequality before it, could cause commerce to lead to immoral outcomes. x
  • 11
    Conservatism and Advanced Capitalism—Burke
    Edmund Burke offered a conservative analysis of the hazards posed by some forms of capitalism. His Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) remains the most influential work of conservative thought ever published. x
  • 12
    Conservatism and Periphery Capitalism—Möser
    Justus Möser is an example of a conservative in a largely precommercial society, for whom the spread of international capitalism was a threat to existing ways of life. x
  • 13
    Hegel on Capitalism and Individuality
    This lecture introduces you to Hegel's ideas about capitalism, individuality, and how institutions foster individuality. x
  • 14
    Hamilton, List, and the Case for Protection
    You encounter two voices in the early debate over free international trade: Alexander Hamilton, who made the case for protecting "infant industries," and Friedrich List, who developed Hamilton's ideas into a national industrial policy. x
  • 15
    De Tocqueville on Capitalism in America
    Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America explores the propensity toward individualism and materialism in America and the countervailing influence of republican institutions and religion. x
  • 16
    Marx and Engels—The Communist Manifesto
    Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels concluded that industrial capitalism profited only the wealthy while leading to the material and moral degradation of the masses. Nevertheless, in The Communist Manifesto (1848), they also recognized capitalism's achievements and possibilities. x
  • 17
    Marx's Capital and the Degradation of Work
    Marx spent most of the decades after The Communist Manifesto working on his comprehensive analysis of the capitalist economy. Although he provided a searing portrait of the industrial factory's degradation of labor, he overlooked the trends that argued against his theory. x
  • 18
    Matthew Arnold on Capitalism and Culture
    The British poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold was concerned about "Philistinism"—spiritual and cultural narrowing in a capitalist society and the spill-over effect of applying a narrowly utilitarian, market mentality to other areas. x
  • 19
    Individual and Community—Tönnies vs. Simmel
    In the last third of the 19th century, a newly unified Germany went through a process of capitalist transformation, leading to debate about capitalism's social, cultural, and political ramifications. x
  • 20
    The German Debate over Rationalization
    Georg Simmel, Max Weber, and Werner Sombart offered three different perspectives on the cultural and spiritual effects of the spread of capitalism and its ideas of rationality and calculation. x
  • 21
    Cultural Sources of Capitalism—Max Weber
    You examine the cultural sources of disparate group success under capitalism, with special focus on Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) and Sombart's The Jews and Modern Capitalism (1911). x
  • 22
    Schumpeter on Innovation and Resentment
    Joseph Schumpeter was among the most wide-ranging analysts of capitalism. But unlike most mainstream economists of his day, Schumpeter focused on the role of entrepreneurs, whose dynamism, he believed, caused resentment of capitalism. x
  • 23
    Lenin's Critique—Imperialism and War
    You examine Vladimir Lenin's idea that capitalism fosters imperialism and related arguments by the British liberal John Hobson and Marxists Rudolf Hilferding and Rosa Luxembourg, before taking up a refutation offered by Schumpeter. x
  • 24
    Fascists on Capitalism—Freyer and Schmitt
    This lecture looks at the critiques of the Weimar Republic's liberal democracy by political analyst Carl Schmitt and sociologist Hans Freyer, who argued that capitalist democracy posed a threat to effective government and national power. x
  • 25
    Mises and Hayek on Irrational Socialism
    This lecture looks at ideas about the importance of markets introduced by Ludwig von Mises and further developed by his student, Friedrich von Hayek, whose "neo-liberal" approach focused on individual liberty and the restriction of government. Hayek's theories about the roots of Fascism and the link between anti-Semitism and anticapitalism are also examined. x
  • 26
    Schumpeter on Capitalism's Self-Destruction
    You focus on Schumpeter's version of the notion that capitalism ignites processes that destroy its institutional foundations—set forth in his Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. x
  • 27
    The Rise of Welfare-State Capitalism
    Perhaps the most important transformation of capitalism in the mid-20th century was the development of welfare-state capitalism. This lecture explores its origins and the varieties of welfare-state capitalism that developed after World War II. x
  • 28
    Pluralism as Limit to Social Justice—Hayek
    This lecture examines Hayek's conception of the links between capitalism and Liberalism, which called into question many of the premises of those who wanted to use the welfare state to shape society. x
  • 29
    Herbert Marcuse and the New Left Critique
    During the 1960s, Herbert Marcuse's most influential work analyzed contemporary capitalism's ability to keep the masses quiescent by manipulating their needs. x
  • 30
    Contradictions of Postindustrial Society
    In the 1970s, Daniel Bell argued that America had entered a postindustrial age and that capitalism undermined the work ethic, frugality, and deferred gratification that it depended on. x
  • 31
    The Family under Capitalism
    This lecture examines some useful conceptual frameworks for thinking about the links between capitalism and the family. x
  • 32
    Tensions with Democracy—Buchanan and Olson
    You explore James M. Buchanan's critique of Keynesianism based on public choice theory and Mancur Olson's explanation of how the logic of collective action could lead to economic stagnation. x
  • 33
    End of Communism, New Era of Globalization
    This lecture explores the origins and nature of the newest era of globalization and puts it into historical perspective. x
  • 34
    Capitalism and Nationalism—Ernest Gellner
    An interpretation of modern history argues that the processes that made capitalism possible also led to changes in personal identity that made nationalism attractive. x
  • 35
    The Varieties of Capitalism
    You examine capitalist societies from five perspectives—political structures, types of welfare states, developmental strategies, forms of business, and extent of equality. x
  • 36
    Intrinsic Tensions in Capitalism
    Why has capitalism been so productive and innovative, and why has it outlasted its competitors, such as Socialism? You look at some recent thinking on this and at some intrinsic tensions in capitalism. x

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Your professor

Jerry Z. Muller

About Your Professor

Jerry Z. Muller, Ph.D.
The Catholic University of America
Dr. Jerry Z. Muller is Professor of History at The Catholic University of America, where he has taught since 1984. He earned his B.A. from Brandeis University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University. He has been a fellow of the American Academy in Berlin; the Rockefeller Foundation Center in Bellagio, Italy; the Olin Foundation; the Bradley Foundation; and the American Council of Learned Societies. Dr. Muller wrote...
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Thinking about Capitalism is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 114.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great survey course on capitalism My exposure to economic theory consisted of one course each on micro and macroeconomics. I found Muller’s course to be a great overview of capitalism and its history. I was fascinated to learn how the “Enlightenment” (Voltaire, Rousseau, Tocqueville), religion (Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism), and governmental system (democratic and non-democratic) impacted the evolution of capitalism, socialism and communism. I was particularly interested in learning how intellectuals came to support Nazism and Fascism. With the benefit of hindsight, Muller presents the economic thinking of the day and why those analyses proved to be correct or incorrect. This history provides valuable insight for evaluating a current “expert” and their explanation of why things are working the way they are. The course is an intellectual history. It is neither a professional journal treatise on capitalism, nor a detailed explanation of the impact of fiscal and monetary policy on capitalism. For me, it was just the right level of detail. Dr. Muller is articulate and I found the material well-organized and well-presented. I would highly recommend it.
Date published: 2013-07-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great historical review, but... Professor Muller does an excellent job of covering what philosophers and intellectuals of the past three hundred years had to say about capitalism. I found it increased my understanding of what the outstanding issues have been and how they have evolved. He is also a great lecturer and easy to listen to. However I have issues with his analysis when he describes the 1970's He ignores the importance of the oil crisis in bringing about the economic stagnation of the late 70's. I found his inclusion of Buchanan and Olson commendable, in the sense that these guys were important public choice theorists, but they are hardly the last word on the subject. We now hear the constant mantra from the right wing about governments growing too big, but what about the far greater problem of corporations growing too big, ie Wallmart, Exxon, Goldman Sachs and Monsanto? I vote that the Great Courses Hires Muller or perhaps some other prof to do a course on contemporary critiques of capitalism. Here is a tentative course outline: JK Galbraith E. F. Schumacher Noam Chomsky Joel Bakan Limits to Growth authors Ivan Illich David Graeber Wilkinson and Pickett Phillip Smith and Manfred Max-Neef and what about the growing list of ecological or green economists: Frederick Soddy Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen Herman Daly Tim Jackson and the modern critiques of growth: Richard Douthwaite Richard Heinberg Jeff Rubin Come to think about it, there has been a virtual explosion of critiques of capitalism in the last fifty years which Muller's course is but a prologue for. So what do you say Great Courses? How about a new course - Thinking about Capitalism Part II?
Date published: 2013-04-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Capitalism, Euphemistically Considered Throughout this course, Muller sounds one of the standard defenses of capitalism, namely, that it’s been responsible for a general burgeoning of prosperity among the masses. However that may be, I have problems with the course, since Muller either ignores or underemphasizes a variety of issues: 1. He ignores monetary systems and policies for the most part, especially the role of bankers and currency. As monetary reformers have pointed out, it makes a crucial difference whether money creation is in public or private hands, just as it makes a difference whether bank lending practices are fractional or, conversely, based on adequate reserves. Along with these matters, Muller skirts vital issues of debt and usury over the course of capitalist evolution. These factors have wielded powerful influence over how capitalism has functioned historically, yet Muller has very little to say about them. 2. Muller covers a number of thinkers who have highlighted the “rationalistic” nature of the market (this notion, in fact, is one of the mainstays of neoclassical economics), which ostensibly leads to greater tolerance and inclusiveness among individuals and nations. One of his favorite quotes comes from Voltaire, who praised the traders on the London Stock Market as acting rationally in their own self-interest (Adam Smith must have loved it). Their behavior, in Voltaire’s view, seemed exemplary in that it appeared to override or subordinate prejudices based on religion or ethnicity. One wonders if Voltaire noticed that commoners had little participation in the stock exchange, or whether he even cared. Similarly, one wonders what sort of egalitarianism these traders displayed after quitting time, when they had to deal with provincial rubes again. 3. Still another note Muller strikes repeatedly is the idea that capitalism develops “character” by requiring participants in the market to live their lives according to the virtues of discipline, self-sacrifice and deferred gratification. There’s something to be said for this, but, like most idealized representations of capitalism, it’s highly misleading. For one thing, it decontextualizes the goal of profit-making, since it assumes that market participants are, in fact, “rational” and enlightened. And even if they were, since profits are always disproportionately allocated, the “winners” ultimately become corrupted by their power, and succumb to illicit behavior. So we end up with people like Kenneth Lay, Bernie Madoff, Jamie Dimon, and Lloyd Blankfein. Yes, I’m oversimplifying, but I firmly believe some antidote to conventional wisdom is vital when addressing this issue. In any case, Lord Acton’s dictum on the link between power and corruption is no less true today than in former times. As for rationality and discipline, was there ever a more rational, efficient, and disciplined organizer of “human capital” than Adolf Eichmann? Citing Eichmann might seem a “low blow,” but I only wish to illustrate that even conventional virtues mean nothing out of context, and have to be weighed against the overall goals of an institutional system. Noam Chomsky realized this when he wrote that "The chairman of the board may sincerely believe that his every waking moment is dedicated to serving human needs. Were he to act on these delusions instead of pursuing profit and market share, he would no longer be chairman of the board." (Chomsky, Necessary Illusions - Thought Control in Democratic Societies, Pluto Press, 1991, p.19) 4. Muller says almost nothing about the egregious costs of capitalist expansion over the centuries. Even a partial list would have to include the following: the destruction of the Incan civilization by Spanish conquistadors; the British atrocities in India and Kenya during the mid-20th century (among many other crimes visited on colonial peoples); French crimes in Algeria during the 1830s; the genocide of Native Americans spanning more than four centuries; over 200 years of black slavery in the U.S. (not to mention Haiti and other third-world countries); and the impoverishment of foreign countries in one American war after another, including Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Grenada, East Timor, Libya, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and too many others to mention (for an expanded list, see William Blum’s “A Brief History of U.S. Interventions, 1945 to the Present”). Even if one tries to fudge things by claiming that atrocities are simply part of human nature and have nothing to do with capitalism per se (a wholly untenable stance, in my view), it still means that any account of capitalism which fails to address these events is not only absurdly saccharine, but irresponsible. 5. Along with the preceding, it’s curious that Muller says nothing about the many class wars waged along neoliberal lines over the past several decades. Neoliberalism, of course, was initially expounded most forcefully by Ludwig von Mises and, later, Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman. Although Muller cites Hayek as a neoliberal exponent, he completely ignores the devastating effects neoliberal policies have wrought in Chile, Bolivia, Equador, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, and, more recently, in Europe and the Balkans. Indeed, it is currently being practiced in the U.S. with predictable results. Nor does he have much to say about the integral roles the Bretton Woods institutions (IMF and World Bank) have played in the imposition of debt peonage on these countries. Or, going further, any of the devastating effects wrought by “free trade” agreements like NAFTA. All of which leads me to the question: Does Muller live in a bubble universe? Muller consistently proceeds as if capitalism is the eternal bringer of glad tidings, not merely because he ignores (or cursorily dismisses) the atrocities left in its wake, but because he gives it far more credit than it deserves, even in those times and countries where prosperity has flourished. Again, he’s not uniquely tendentious in this approach. It’s a view common among capitalist apologists who wish to “steal thunder” from scientists and their discoveries. For example, in one of the later lectures he reels off a list of inventions (e.g., radio, TV, refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners) as if these were all gifts of capitalism. He momentarily addresses this issue, even acknowledging that “some people say these are the result of science, not capitalism,” but then dismisses it, insisting that it’s the market that made these inventions available. I’ll readily concede the latter; however, it conveniently ignores the more significant fact that capitalism couldn’t have marketed these innovations if scientists hadn’t created them in the first place. Claiming that capitalism is the real “Santa Claus” is like praising Sony for your living room television and implying that Abbe Caselli, George Cary, Thomas Edison, and other inventors had nothing to do with it. As for me, I’d rather praise Santa than the reindeer who brought him to town (or better yet, thank the elves, since they did all the grunt work). It’s unfortunate that Muller proceeds as if none of these issues mattered very much, so that people taking this course might get the impression that the capitalist system merits glorified status as an entity unto itself. To be fair, he devotes greater attention to some of the cultural issues surrounding the capitalist enterprise in the latter part of the course as he moves toward a synoptic assessment of the system. Yet it seems almost like an afterthought. I’ll acknowledge, once again, that this tendency to euhemerize the market isn’t restricted to Muller, since it may be a carry-over from neoclassical economics (I say this because Muller is a self-professed conservative who’s unlikely to have much affinity with post-Keynesians like Michael Hudson and Steve Keen). But it still makes me queasy. Overall, then, my impression of the course is ambivalent. If one takes it simply to learn what major economists have written and thought about capitalism over the centuries, I wouldn’t say it’s meritless. Nor, despite what some reviewers have claimed, does Muller strike me as an overly biased lecturer in terms of presentational style (substance is another matter). As a conservative who obviously favors capitalism – despite the invidious issues he either ignores or dismisses – Muller couldn’t be expected to denounce a system of which he himself is a beneficiary. In this context, I’m reminded again of Parenti, who noted that one’s view of an institutional system typically depends on where one stands in the hierarchy. A nicely tenured professor in a major American university will likely have a more favorable view of capitalism than a poor Native American on a reservation, or a black slum-dweller in Detroit. So I give Muller credit for what he covers, but I simply can’t overlook the many harsh realities he ignores.
Date published: 2013-04-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Capitalism vs Socialism I became concerned when I read the thumbnail for lecture 36 which states that capitalism has outlasted its competitors such as socialism? Now I am unsure whether the lecturer will make a clear enough distinction. Capitalism has in fact not outlasted socialism. Socialism has allowed capitalism to outlast communism because communism did not respect the individual. Most of the wealth produced in the USA is produced by capital. This is just as true for China and Russia. Labor by itself without tools and machines - Capital - does not produce very much. Capital however cannot buy things. This is why capitalism needs socialism to ensure an effective distribution of income so that there will be demand for the goods that capital can produce. This will remain a necessity until we are all owners of capital. Hopefully, to paraphrase Hamilton, this will not also require men to become angels.
Date published: 2013-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Favorite lecture so far This is a fine series, addressing capitalism from a fairly favorable (though not slavishing approving) perspective. It is not an examination of economic theories so much as an intellectual history of the development of the subject. I found it a greater pleasure to listen to than perhaps any other of the many Great Courses I've purchased. If TGC had more lectures from Prof. Muller I'd buy them instantly. Muller is an excellent speaker on all levels (note: I'm reviewing the audio version). His sentences are clear, his choice of words thoughtful and precise, and his overall organization impeccable. His presentation is so thought-provoking that, if I lose my place in my iPod, I don't mind re-listening to a lecture. Even though the material is familiar, I'm continuing to get benefit from it on a second listening. He certainly doesn't waste any words. I was so happy with this course that I ordered a copy of Muller's similar book from Amazon.
Date published: 2013-03-29
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Intellectual history????? The introduction to this course describes Professor Muller as an “intellectual historian” and “an Ideal teacher”. I feel like this is extremely misleading, at least as concerns this example of Professor Muller’s work. I don’t want to be too critical of Professor Muller, since I suspect that the editorial staff at the Great Courses may bear some responsibility. The task of “helping us think about capitalism” (quoted from the course guidebook) is a formidable one, for it is a multidisciplinary undertaking involving economics, history, intellectual history, philosophy, sociology, mathematics, psychology, and religion. All of these disciplines have different key concepts, different pre-conceived assumptions, different ways of arguing, different education and skill set, and an huge literature. I am not sure that the task can be handled properly in 36 half hour lectures by one person. Your introduction led me to believe that Professor Muller would look at how some of the most relevant thinking tackled the major issues in the topic of Capitalism. By this I thought he would give us a sympathetic accounting of each of the thinkers. I think the ideal intellectual history helps us to understand the thinker in his historical context; help us to understand the key issues and the evidence and arguments used by this individual. The true intellectual historian should help us get a lay of the intellectual landscape. By the end of the lecture series we should we should be better prepared to engage in the debate. The intellectual historian should abstain from doing economics, philosophy, sociology, mathematics etc., but rather should do history. The good intellectual historian does not therefore take sides, since this means that he would have to actually hold himself out as an expert in the various fields; this “expert” position would require arguing in detail like a philosopher or mathematician, etc. Professor Muller does not maintain a neutral stance in his “intellectual history”. He fails in two ways. First, he commits a sin that I am afraid contaminates much of human discussion. He fails to try to understand or empathize with the various authors. Indeed, when discussing Marcuse, he seems to chuckle and take a very contemptuous attitude toward his subject (I only had the audio version so perhaps I am mistaken about the giggle, but the attitude definitely seemed to belittle his subject). If you can’t try to understand the author (and this includes the content of his writings and also the context), then I fail to see how you can do a decent history. His second failure of neutrality is quite clear. He frequently joins the argument and takes sides. Unfortunately, his authors or their supporters do not have a chance to argue back. Moreover, he appears to lack the expertise to argue on some of these points. For example, he has high praise for Hayek, describing him as remarkably insightful. Then he gives what Hayek evidently intended as arguments. However Professor Muller seems to be saying that the arguments are correct, but with no reasoning that would convince a sensible listener. For example, he reports that Hayek refuses to accept criticism of Capitalism on the grounds of violation of social justice, because, according to Hayek no one can define “social justice”. Professor Muller expects me to accept this as a self-evident truth. This seems to be an example of bad philosophy rather than intellectual history. Perhaps Hayek was a logical positivist, (a good intellectual historian would have placed him in context), but that does not mean that he is correct. To take on the formidable task of establishing the truth of Hayek’s position would require the refutation of many intellectuals, who have written about issues of social justice for centuries, including many insightful post-Hayek philosophers. There are numerous other areas where Professor Muller joins the argument, for example with Marx and with issues regarding Capitalism and the Family. With the latter, he argues freely about how the virtual family with 1.8 children reasons to decide on how many children they will have. I am not sure about the wisdom of using a mathematical mean as a point to reason from----we would need an argument here. Even if there is an argument for using the mean, there remains a problem with the idea that people reason economically about having children. Professor Muller seems to think it is self-evident. He may be correct, but I have not been convinced---Mother Nature has arranged for the procreative apparatus to mature approximately 12 years before the frontal lobes of the brain. The frontal lobes of the brain are important to our executive functions such as planning and controlling impulses. It would seem Mother Nature has set it up so that most people are well on the way to having a family before they are likely to pick up on the arguments that Professor Muller attributes to them. From a developmental point of view, people often have children and then mature (indeed if then). Again, I don’t mind intellectual history, so if there is someone who argues from the arithmetic mean and speculates about how the virtual entity reasons, fine---report it. But if you take sides, then you have to do more than report, you have to supply arguments. In my opinion, contrary to his proclaimed intention of helping me to think about Capitalism, he has produced an excellent example of how to confuse ideology with thinking. It is a good example of contemporary public debate and news reporting----our culture tends to give up on the pursuit of the truth and instead tells people what they want to hear. I hope the Great Courses is not feeling the economic pinch of Capitalism and giving up their intellectual integrity in favor of turning a larger profit. I would love to see this topic revisited by a well-educated editorial staff and a multidisciplinary group of teachers, who are really committed to giving an objective outline of the intellectual landscape, so that the listener can be better prepared to understand and participate in the ongoing conversation about Capitalism.
Date published: 2013-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What is the proper role of the state? DVD review. Despite its title, Dr. Muller's THINKING ABOUT CAPITALISM does NOT focus on the history of economics as an academic discipline. That was my mistake. I thought at first this course was something similar to Heilbroner's classic book "The Worldly Philosophers". Not so. Muller is concerned with what certain social thinkers — we would now call them moralists, philosophers, social anthropologists, sociologists or policy wonks — thought about the cultural and social effects of "freer" markets and "freer" international trade. Most importantly, this course is a great introduction to the history of an issue hotly debated in every recent American election at the national level: What is the proper role of the state with respect to market forces, assuming our goal is widespread prosperity? Pre-modern European economies were dominated by land ownership, feudal obligations, guild oversight and caste-like social divisions between rulers and ruled, producers and consumers. Inefficient though they were, these economies cocooned most lives with limited horizons and rigid social expectations. Freer markets ripped these fetters away. But at the same time, they exposed millions to naked exploitation and greater prosperity without a moral order to justify the new social reality. For many, the state replaced the Church as the only countervailing force powerful enough to humanize these economic trends. The precondition was democracy. A state without democratic mechanisms was just another oppressor. And yet even with the vote, state institutions were "rationalized" by creeping bureaucracy and special interests. To complicate things further, capitalism exists in many forms. Japan, South Korea and the Asian Tigers did not follow the American template in the 60s. China and India are evolving still other versions as we speak. I list these trends to give you an idea of some of the issues raised by the thinkers explored in this course. They cover a wide range of opinions. And Muller does a very good job of making them interesting and relevant to contemporary concerns. Strongly recommended for those of you interested in the social repercussions of economic trends.
Date published: 2012-12-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A new angle on the topic I've studied economics, finance and history, so my initial belief was that I wouldn't get a tremendous amount from the course. I was pleasantly surprised. It was excellent. This is one of those Teaching Company courses which I plan to listen to a second time.
Date published: 2012-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from teaching at its best A wonderful explanation of how capitalism has reshaped our thinking and our world and an invaluable resource for those who wish to understand the complex forces driving modern life. Professor Muller is a gifted teacher who stays focused on essentials and presents difficult concepts in a compelling manner. One lecture follows another in a fluid development of thought so that the listener ends each lecture with a desire to begin the next. .
Date published: 2012-11-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Examine course content carefully before buying In general I am very interested in economics courses. However I think this course is more of an intellectual history course than a economics course thus I have not found what I have expected from the course. Costumer should buy this course accordingly. Professors presentation was not bad but it was not good either. I did not find professors presentation style particularly engaging. Furthermore I suspect professor is a little bit biased about the topic, though I do not think about bias issue very strongly as some other costumers. In general course has interesting content for the right audience, but for me opportunity cost was greater than course value.
Date published: 2012-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Capitalism I've never really looked at courses like economics or capitalism before. So, it was all new to me. I would have liked to have heard more about non capitalist systems. But, what is there is good and informative. The sessions are interesting and go by very quickly.
Date published: 2012-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Election Year Course! This course provided a new realm of knowledge for me. It is an interesting blend of economics, philosphy and history and, I would say, is a particularly useful complement to the excellent lineup of business and economics courses offered here. When the Soviet Union fell a generation ago, while some pronounced Marxism dead, others warned that it would live on among our academics. And, of course, it has. But I found Professor Muller to offer an impressive and nuanced alternative view. His lecture content, presenting the subject chronologically, is notably comprehensive and well balanced. He is an objective scholar and not a doctrinaire. He strengthened my belief that capitalism has been the primary engine for our material advance. But he also presents critical aspects as well. I came away with an appreciation of the many views of this subject. I would not want a completely unbridled capitalism, but I certainly do not view socialism as wise. Professor Muller has a gift for presenting a complex subject in an accessible way. Even so, you may need to wade through the course at least twice to fully grasp the matter. (It is fairly dense and requires your focus.) The professor does have a quirky manner of nearly always holding up his right hand as he lectures. And he sometimes speaks in halting, choppy phrases. These, however, are only minor distractions and become hardly noticable. Given the starkly opposing economic views of our political parties in this election year, you may find this course edifying and valuable - and well worth the cost and effort.
Date published: 2012-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of Prosperity - A+ A subtitle for this course could be "how societies have come to prosper and decide that it's okay to prosper." It starts at Greek thought, goes through the Church fathers, lots of interesting stuff on enlightenment's march towards our current belief, etc.. This is a great course if you : *are interested in any of the following: -history -philosophy -economics -history of thought -the enlightenment -the political debates over markets and what's good for society. -why things are the way they are. *feel ambivalent about "materialism" and "individualism" or if it's okay to have wealth. (That is, you may understand your own belief system better. But it doesn't try to talk you out of those beliefs) *have always wanted to know more about some great thinkers: Hobbes, Rousseau, Hegel, Alexander Hamilton, etc. Their stuff is more accessible than you'd think and he doesn't dwell on the boring bits. You will find the course: *Nuanced: example: you'll learn that Adam smith was >not<completely libertarian (anti-govt intervention) in his thought. *Sophisticated. You won't be able to get your grandkids to listen to it. [Try the "Hubble" course if that's what you're looking for"] *Moves surprisingly quickly. *Analytical without being boring. *Free of the "rah rah" stuff about economics. I don't sense any bias. It >teaches< rather than tries to win you over. *Both conservatives and liberals would find this worthwhile and enjoyable. *Without the distracting idiosyncrasies that some lecturers have. *Doesn't have a lot of overlap with other courses. (Some overlap, tho) Note: *Although the lectures are clear and not complicated, you'll need to concentrate to get everything. *Getting just the audio is fine. *I'm honestly having a very hard time thinking of anyone who wouldn't learn a lot from and enjoy this course. (But, if you're new to all this, perhaps you'd benefit from taking a course on history or economics before trying this one.) *This course will take you into new territory of understanding why we are the way we are and how we got here.
Date published: 2012-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absolutely superb. This was the first class I listened to from the teaching company, and some twenty classes and a year later, it is still my favorite. Prof. Mueller is no doubt a cheerleader for capitalism, and he is less concerned about its alienating effects than either rightist pre-capitalists like Moser or socialists like Marx. Yet his presentation of these thinkers' ideas, as well as those of his favorites like Schumpeter, is fair, comprehensive, and extremely thought provoking. I have returned to the course guide over and over again, as its content is so relevant to all the political and social conflicts that have occurred since the coming of the Enlightenment, and which we continue to confront in our present era.
Date published: 2012-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Jerry Muller is a highly gifted lecturer who makes compelling a subject with the potential to be boring. It's a pleasure to watch and listen to his masterful presentations.
Date published: 2012-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought provoking and excellent analysis This should be required study for anyone involved in thinking about the best way to allow capitalism to flourish. Desperately needed amongst policy makers who tend to blindly follow one "version" of capitalism and denigrate any other point of view. Professor Muller walks you through all the major thinkers and theorists of capitalism; he does not shy away from difficult truths and contradictions in the development of thought in this area. There is no single "correct" version of capitalism and it is a dynamic and moving feast that adapts to the challenges it faces in a particular society. Professor Muller for example highlughts some of the misgivings that Adam Smith of unfettered markets. The coverage of welfare economics and also capitalism as it developed in the Nazi era are really interesting. Excellent
Date published: 2012-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unbias history of Capitalism As a very passionate libertarian I approached this course with some worry that it would have a liberal bias. I was very happy that Professor Muller presented a very well thought out exploration of the social, economic and political history of capitalism with no hint that I could find of bias either way. The contexts he brought gave me a much more rounded view of how we got to the current version of Capitalism and a greater ability to try to foresee where it might go from here. I think that anyone with an interest in Economics and/or a strong feeling one way or the other about Capitalism will have their knowledge enhanced by this series. Thank you Professor.
Date published: 2012-03-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Complete Prof Miller presented a complete exposition on capitalism covering competing economic systems and their relation to capitalism. He presented the material from an "ideas" or philosophical point-of-view and did so without assigning any value judgements of his own. This is an excellent course.
Date published: 2012-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow This course is truly excellent. I found the course very interesting and insightful. I came away with a much better understanding of capitalism and how it evolved. The presenter was great!
Date published: 2012-02-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Critical Knowledge for Our Times This course provides a broad, historical overview of the evolving idea of capitalism – particularly how capitalism interacts with society. This interaction includes evolving viewpoints of how capitalism affects work, creativity, innovation, prosperity, culture, family, government, and globalization; and conversely, how family, religion, culture, values, and government affect capitalism. This is a course with a strong focus on history, ideas, and how capitalistic ideas evolved (intellectual history); it is not a pragmatic course on the mechanics of modern capitalism or modern day economic facts and trends (other TTC courses provide this complementary knowledge). The professor is enthusiastic, clear, and articulate in communicating, clarifying, and showing examples of ideas. He does an excellent job presenting opposing viewpoints, viewpoints in historical contexts, where assumptions went wrong, and what lessons we can still learn from and use today. He is very easy to listen to and clearly excited by the material. About 90% of the lecture topics were very interesting and shed light on current ideas and arguments. This course can dramatically change your understanding, perspective, and appreciation of capitalism. There are many non-obvious strengths and benefits from free markets, private property, self-interest, and human capital; including greater prosperity, greater liberty, greater knowledge, new technology, better cross cultural and international relations, emphasis on values and learning in business, greater democracy, greater freedoms, greater charity, etc. Alternatively, capitalism requires effective, efficient government (to provide rules, fair markets, property protection, and risk management) and responsible, moral individuals to counterbalance hedonism and materialism (often learned through religion, family, education, etc.). If you are interested in history and a better understanding of the role, pros, cons, and responsibilities for effective capitalism, you will really enjoy this excellent, sweeping overview course.
Date published: 2011-11-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Pure and simple Capitalistic propaganda In this course lecturer enlightens us about the beauties of the Capitalism and tries to crush arguments advanced by fools such as Marx and Lenin against this heavenly state of affairs. Lecturer's worship of markets is complete, his knowledge of Marx is deplorable and his Starbucks liberalism is undoubted. So if you got bored listening NPR on your iPod while sipping your Starbucks you would enjoy this course. But for anyone who got through 2-3 serious books can see this course for what is: Capitalistic propaganda designed for better educated audience.
Date published: 2011-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Recommend this course, enthusiastically Although this course is generally rated quite high, I find some of the reviews fussy, out of context and very wide of the mark. Prof. Muller's presentation is not a resounding endorsement of capitalism, nor is it a denunciation of socialism/communism. Given the undeniably spectacular success of capitalism over fascism, socialism and communism, since the mid-18th century, it would be difficult for ANY repressor to compare the achievements of these systems without sounding like a fan of capitalism. So successful has it been that almost the entire communist bloc has adopted market capitalism as their economic framework. Prof. Muller takes great pains to acknowledge and delineate the "warts" of all systems; especially those of capitalism. Those who philosophized and proffered socialistic and communistic models have done so as an almost completely intellectual exercise. None of their systems have ever been successfully practiced. Those who preach socialism and communism are simply "believers", reciting how things ought to be. Agreed, these utopian ideals would be great -- but, so too would be "heaven" great. This course embodies the more recent "high production values" of the teaching company; with adequate callouts, text boxes and graphics. Added to this is the unbelievably smooth style of Prof. Muller. The good professor sweetens a potentially dry topic and through multidimensional analysis leaves one anxiously awaiting the next lecture. On a scale of 5 stars, I rate this course and this professor an over-the-top 12 stars.
Date published: 2011-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My kind of course! Professor Muller's course on Thinking About Capitalism is one of the best courses by the TC that I have taken to date (about 60 courses so far). This course is focused on the great thinkers/philosophers of economics and I do believe this was the correct approach to thinking about capitalism. The professor obviously favors capitalism in his lectures and even though he openly critiques anti-capitalist such as Marx and Marcuse, he will make you think about the great diversity within capitalism such as the varities of welfare state capitalism to complete free market capitalism. In today's political atmosphere, you are left believing there is either free market capitalism or socialism, and I believe this course shows the theory of capitalism is far richer than one could possibly imagine. I enjoyed the style of the course, and the course made me think critically and favorably about capitalism. As a Libertarian, I love Hayek, Mises and Smith but this course made me understand where people with other perspectives were coming from and I believe that is what a professor is supposed to do. I do agree with another reviewer that Muller's knowledge of Christianity and the role it has played in the development of capitalism (good and bad) was lacking in these lectures. He also certainly has a biasness, but honestly, it is almost impossible to be completely objective when discussing such a hot topic like capitalism when we have the Ron Pauls and Michael Moores of the world. I believe Muller took a fair stance and explain the various theories adequately. I do hope the Teaching Company continues to make wonderful through-provoking courses like this that deal with a topic instead of just surveys of a topic as wonderful as those are.
Date published: 2011-09-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great but biased course I am currently exactly halfway through the course, so I am reviewing the first half, and may come back to say more or revise my review if there's a significant change in the latter half of the course, but so far, the material has been fascinating, and Prof. Muller's presentation of it is organized and really interesting. My one comment, suggested by other reviewers as well, is that Prof. Muller seems to wear his biases on his sleeve. While I am far from a Marxist, I have read Das Kapital, Vol. I cover to cover, and I was actually hoping that Prof. Muller would offer an intelligent presentation and critique of Marx's ideas. What he does instead is an unworthy hatchet job. For instance, he suggests -- as if this fact somehow contradicts Marx -- that GDP in England consistently went UP throughout the 19th century. Marx, of course, acknowledged that capitalism had improved the universal standard of living and had led to economic growth. Capitalism, for Marx, was an improvement over every prior historical stage of development; he simply believed that it did not represent the highest stage of human progress and was highly critical of its flaws, sometimes rightly, sometimes unfairly. Prof. Muller also suggests, as if this were some sort of CRAZY idea on Marx's part, that Marx believed that over time capitalist enterprises would consolidate and get larger and larger, while smaller firms would be unable to compete due to their inability to achieve economies of scale and their increasing need to rely on expensive machinery/equipment to be competitive. What Prof. Muller doesn't mention -- while focusing on all the predictions Marx got wrong -- is that history has proven Marx absolutely right on this score. Prof. Muller also makes total nonsense of the labor theory of value, which he explains in a way no one could follow intelligently and dismisses as failing to predict prices. It would have been far more interesting if he had actually compared Marx's labor theory of value and how closely market prices (determined by the interaction of supply and demand) track that theory's predictions with Adam Smith's theory of value (i.e., the notion of "natural price") and how closely market prices track Smith's theory. Finally, Prof. Muller presents Marx as being incoherent on the question of why capitalism would eventually collapse, suggesting he sometimes claimed this would happen due to underconsumption (i.e., workers who get paid low wages by capitalists not having enough money to pay for the products capitalists produce, leading to a steady decline in profit rate, etc.) and sometimes claimed this would happen as a consequence of the labor theory of value. In reality, these "two" theories are perfectly coherent; it's really just one theory. The idea, simplified, is that since the only way for capitalists to earn profits in the long term is through paying less for labor than the prices at which they sell their goods, and since, due to increasing industrialization, labor increasingly gets replaced by machinery as time goes on, this means capitalists' profit rates keep going down, since the fewer people who are working, the less disposable income is out there in the population, which means there's increasingly no one for capitalists to sell their goods to, and profits keep going down and down, which means capitalists have to exploit labor more and more to turn a profit, and eventually this leads to an unsustainable situation where too many people are out of work, while those that are working are too underpaid and too overworked, and the result is revolution. There are certainly flaws in this theory that could be pointed out -- though the flaws require real reflection and are not actually as obvious as they might appear -- but this is ONE consistent theory, not two inconsistent ones. Anyway, I was disappointed with this lecture because if I can see so many glaring mistakes in Prof. Muller's presentation of Marx just from having read and thought about Das Kapital, Vol. I, I do wonder how many flaws there are in his presentation of other thinkers. I just wish he had been more even-handed and had made an effort to present Marx at his most thought-provoking and insightful before trying to offer criticisms rather than presenting a straw-man version of Marx to peck away at. It's just not intellectually honest, and I'm sure, as an expert on the subject, Prof. Muller must know better.
Date published: 2011-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thinking about Capitalism I have only watched 6 lectures but I am enjoying this series enormously. I am not a rabid capitalist, nor am I a severe critic of the system, but the professor seems objective enough thus far. I did not notice any confusion about crypto-Jews versus other Jews (as a fellow reviewer complained). I thought he explained all of that very clearly from the beginning. It was hardly a crucial distinction as regards the subject matter. The point was the impact of the diaspora and the consequences of persecution to the persecutor. Bravi Dutch!
Date published: 2011-08-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from surprisingly rich topic I was interested in the topic but couldn't imagine that it could fill 36 lectures. I was wrong. All 36 were quite interesting.
Date published: 2011-06-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good, but some Notable Weaknesses Let me begin by saying that there are a good number of particular lectures in this course that are excellent-sophisticated yet informative and comprehensible. Some of these, such as those on Mises and Hayek, on Smith, on De Tocqueville, and others, demonstrate that the instructor has wrestled with the primary texts and ideas, and come up with a unique and clear mode of presenting some of the key theses. I enjoyed these lectures thoroughly. However, a fair number of the remaining lectures are less impressive. For example, Prof. Muller’s treatment of capitalism and Christianity is rather superficial and stereotypical, and it seems as if for these he relied more on secondary sources for his treatment. Compared to, say, the lecture on De Tocqueville, there were far less (if any) direct quotes from Christian thinkers. A similar problem occurs in the lecture on Hobbes. Other lectures are too sloppy at certain points. For example, in the lecture on Dutch commerce, Prof. Muller sometimes refers to the whole Jewish diaspora in the Dutch Republic as “crypto-Jews,” while at other times he rightly distinguishes between genuine converts, crypto-Jews, and those who never pretended to convert at all. This slippage could have been easily avoided and would make the lecture more solid. Finally, he is also quite thin with original language terminology, although he is a bit better on the German side than on the French. Connected to but distinct from the above criticisms of content, there is also a serious problem with Prof. Muller’s perspective on the material he is treating. As another reviewer has mentioned, he is basically pro-capitalist: this would not be a problem except that it sometimes adversely affects how he presents various figures and ideas. For instance, I can’t think of a single critical thing he had to say about Hayek, and he sounds almost in awe of him, but when it came to Marx and Lenin and Marcuse, not only did he offer a host of criticisms, but he almost adopted a tone of ridicule at points. Criticism is fine, but it should be directed equally, and furthermore ought to be presented in a disinterested tone. Because of this, it is difficult for the uninformed listener to fully trust Prof. Muller, which detracts from the course.
Date published: 2011-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Ideas What have the world's great thinkers written about capitalism? Dr. Muller does a wonderful job showing us what the Big Ideas were. I could not but be drawn into Dr. Muller's presentation -- the historical background of the writers, differing circumstances and conditions that contributed to a writer's view, the effect technology and politics had, all sprinkled with salient quotes. I appreciated hearing both the pros and the cons; shortcomings and errors of the writers' ideas were not glossed over. I found Dr. Muller's careful delivery great because he is really saying something with each sentence. I was sorry when I came to the end of this course! If another course is offered by Dr. Muller, I will not hesitate to buy it. He is excellent!
Date published: 2011-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Course So Far I am astonished at how good this course is. I write about capitalism/ for a living and am familiar with much of this material but have had my eyes and mind opened time and again by this course. It is quite simply the best money you can spend at the Teaching Company. The production quality is superlative. This is a course worth listening to again and again. It will profoundly influence your understanding of intellectual history and our modern political and commercial world. More Mueller, please!
Date published: 2011-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Old but relevant thoughts on capitalism This course delivered, as promised, a satisfying intellectual history of "the best that has been thought about capitalism." Many of these "thoughts" are 100+ years old, yet surprisingly resonant with the challenges and tensions capitalism faces in the modern world. Some reviewers have criticized the inclusion of some thinkers and the exclusion of others, but I thought the slate was well-balanced and since it's impossible to be comprehensive, it didn't bother me. Dr. Muller is articulate, thoughtful, and good-humored, and was a very pleasant and effective guide through the material. I watched lectures at 1.75x speed and did not have any difficulty following him. I also appreciated his fair-mindedness in always striving to lay out both sides of each argument he presented. Highly recommended to anyone interested in building a foundational knowledge of different perspectives on capitalism over the past few centuries.
Date published: 2010-11-14
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