Economics and Society and the Fate of Liberal Capitalism

Weber’s writings on economic history, economic policy, and schools of economics, and his teaching of economics are outlined. His engagement with, and expertise in economics, are revealed to be more extensive than is generally appreciated. The full potential of his major work Economy and Society has yet to be exploited, and this requires a clearer grasp of Weber as an economist. His critique of the scientific claims of modern economics is still relevant, and this is illustrated through his use of the Austrian marginalist school. The appropriation of Weber’s supposed individualist social science by Mises and Hayek is shown to be misplaced. The relevance of Weber’s writings as an economist for the analysis of contemporary “neoliberal” societies is explored. Weber combines a knowledge of neoclassical economics with an awareness of how economic power is deployed to seek out profit opportunities. The similarities between the liberal laissez-faire economics of his day and the neoliberal regime that has taken hold since the 1980s now allow us to appreciate fully his economic sociology and apply it to contemporary capitalist practices. Weber’s analysis of the economic division of labour yields a conceptual distinction between rentier and acquisitive capitalism and explains how rentiers can form a status group and intervene in bourgeois parliamentary democracy. Weber’s distinctive approach makes possible the analysis the interrelation between economic power, economic ideas, and the spheres of politics and social stratification.

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