Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy

Authors – Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake

Book discussed – 9 October 2018

Review by – John Keary

This book written by two economists has the potential to be a dry tome, but instead, it represents a fundamental challenge to the way that we think about the firm. On that basis alone, it should be on the reading list of every executive and investor, because it goes further to ask searching questions about the direction and content of public policy.  It should also be read by any citizen wondering where businesses like Amazon and Alphabet are taking us, and by politicians.

The book builds its arguments carefully from conventional underpinnings. Perhaps the first section on ‘The rise of the intangible economy’ is the least interesting, though well-written and clearly argued. In Part II the book comes alive as it forces us to change radically the way we think about business: accounting; corporate strategy; leadership; stakeholders; industrial strategy. Thus, we are taken through the actual and potential consequences of intangibles for our economy and way of life. 

The summary, conclusion and ‘way ahead’ feel frustratingly light by comparison with the build-up in the rest of Part II.  Perhaps that is right: there are dizzying possibilities and many choices for those who might exploit these accelerating changes. The structure, illustrations, references and index are to a high standard, as one would expect of such a work. Strongly recommended in a field with few competitors at present.

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