Book Review: The Battle For The Soul Of Capitalism

The Battle For The Soul Of Capitalism, by John C. Bogle

Those readers who are not aware of the generally corrupt behaviors of many financiers and business executives [1] may think that this title is a bit overly dramatic.  Those whose hostility to these abuses often involves a fashionable hostility to capitalism may wonder why it would be worthwhile to fight for the soul of capitalism, on the other hand.  In general, though, I happen to agree with the perspective and approach of the author, whose fondness for classic literature and biblical quotes and support of virtue is combined with a sharp critique of contemporary business practice that is contrary to both biblical and classical conceptions of virtue.  This book is a deeply serious one, full of close argumentation as well as immense historical sweep and a large degree of statistical support, as Bogle is making an argument that aims at both the body and the spirit, the mind and the heart, and is seeking to encourage a drastic reform of the way we currently do business in the hope that it will allow our culture’s successful business practices to endure and not be swamped by corrupt crony capitalism, as is being threatened at present.

This argument is a tightly organized one that consists of ten chapters in four parts that take up almost 250 pages of material after the lengthy forward, acknowledgements and introductory history of the connection between capitalism and American society.  The first part of the book examines the issue of corporate America (I), including what went wrong in the shift between owner and managerial capitalism (1), why things went wrong in corporate America (2), and how corporate America can be returned to the control of its owners (3).  The author then turns his attention to the problems of investment America (II) with a look at what went wrong with auditors and financial managers (4), why things went wrong in the confusion of momentary stock prices and eternal intrinsic values (5), and how to fix investment America through the involvement of owners (6).  The third part of the book turns its attention on the problems of mutual fund America (III) with a look at what went wrong in the triumph of salesmanship over stewardship (7), how mutual funds lost their way (8), and how mutual funds must be organized, operated, and managed for shareholders (9).  The fourth part of the book consists of the author’s concluding chapter and the author’s hopes to begin the world anew in the 21st century (10), plans that have not gone well so far.

There are a lot of reasons why this book works so well.  The author’s quotations of the Bible, his paraphrasing of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, his keen awareness of the history of mutual funds and contemporary investment vehicles, and his own generally moderate and principled political beliefs combine to make this book a tour de force for the sort of reader who appreciates sound biblical and historical exegesis, a deep knowledge of history and business, and a critical approach towards the conduct of regulators and businessmen that does not involve a rejection of capitalism itself.  The author is a reformer of the most principled kind, and someone whose own actions demonstrate a desire to provide as much as possible of the gains and profits of business for the investment success of investors, something that few people involved in financing can claim.  There is a lot of repetition of particular points and concepts between the author’s works, but that repetition is a matter of conviction rather than a lack of skill, and come off as a familiar and slightly cranky but generally astute observer of business.  The author’s humility in such circumstances, including his willingness to admit that he was too idealistic in his youth about the practices of managers, makes his argument all the more persuasive and powerful.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Book Review: The Battle For The Soul Of Capitalism

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Don’t Count On It! | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Clash Of The Cultures | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: Book Review: Bogle On Mutual Funds | Edge Induced Cohesion

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