The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Succeeds in the West and Fails Everywhere Else

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"The hour of capitalism's greatest triumph," writes Hernando de Soto, "is, in the eyes of four-fifths of humanity, its hour of crisis." In The Mystery of Capital, the world-famous Peruvian economist takes up the question that, more than any other, is central to one of the most crucial problems the world faces today: Why do some countries succeed at capitalism while others fail?In strong opposition to the popular view that success is determined by cultural differences, de Soto finds that it actually has to do with the legal structure of property and property rights. Every developed nation in the world at one time went through the transformation from predominantly informal, extralegal ownership to a formal, unified legal property system, but in the West we've forgotten that creating this system is also what allowed people everywhere to leverage property into wealth. This persuasive book will revolutionize our understanding of capital and point the way to a major transformation of the world economy.

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Editorial Reviews

. . .a challenging and fresh thinking theory that flies in the face of traditional notions of Third World poverty.
". . .de Soto convincingly demonstrates, the road to worldwide prosperity requires not restraining capitalism but making it universal.
The most intelligent book yet written about the current challenge of establishing capitalism in the developing world.
Globe and Mail
. . .a significant contribution to understanding how the poorest nations can use their own legal system to manage their way out of poverty.
Industry Standard
An increasingly important economist provides a fascinating lesson in why capitalism works by looking at the places where it doesn't.
Laurence Minoral
If a nonmathematician can win a Nobel Prize in Economics, I nominate de Soto.
—(Editor-in-Chief, Forbes Global)
Raleigh News & Observer
It is one of the most provocative and potentially important works on development to appear in some time.
Business Week
. . . [de Soto] performs a valuable service. .
Los Angeles Times Book Review
. . .impassioned and thoughtful. .
Kirkus Reviews
A provocative and revolutionary analysis of the nature of capital, the ineffectiveness of capitalistic reform in developing nations, and the ways in which those countries can harness their latent economic potential.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465016143
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 9/1/1900
  • Pages: 288
  • Lexile: 1460L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Table of Contents

Chapter One: The Five Mysteries of Capital
Chapter Two: The Mystery of Missing Information
Chapter Three: The Mystery of Capital
Chapter Four: The Mystery of Political Awareness
Chapter Five: The Missing Lessons of U. S. History
Chapter Six: The Mystery of Legal Failure
Chapter Seven: By Way of Concluion
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2004

    Capitalism in a straitjacket

    This book is very eloquently written and argues that the inability of the poor in developing nations to obtain entrance into the legal networks for valuing their properties causes capital specifically in these countries to be depressed and unviable as assets that may increase a nation's productive capital formation. I believe Mr. De Soto is quite accurate with his analysis into what suppresses a nation's ability to structure its capital in such a way that it can begin to compete on a global scale. Property indeed has been the cornerstone of man's ability to claim validity and merit in his life. In Peru as in many third world nations, quite frequently, there is no legal network that enables the extralegal social enclaves of citizens to transgress beyond their own social and economic states. This scenario perpetuates negatively a network of entrepreneurs that can only sustain their capital within the confines of the extralegal network. When these assets cannot be utilized to generate further income, in effect, they are as the author indicates 'dead capital'. I recommend this book highly to anyone interested in DeSoto and his unique and invigorating concept of property law as a means of leveraging a nation's wealth.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2004

    Packed With Knowledge!

    Hernando de Soto¿s ideas cannot and should not be ignored. This book will open many eyes to the nature of capital. The author suggests a radically simple yet enormously challenging way of bringing the world¿s impoverished billions onto the track of capitalism and development: give them legal property rights to what they ¿own.¿ The author¿s intriguing case is that a lack of property rights ¿ not a lack of entrepreneurial zeal or competence ¿ stymies development in the former East Bloc and Third World countries. This seemed to be a shockingly original notion when the author first propounded it in his bestseller The Other Patch, and it still does. If the book has a flaw, we warn, it is that the author¿s undisguised missionary ardor sometimes makes one wonder whether he is merely a zealot. Even if he were one, the book would merit reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2003

    Right-wing ideologue

    The effusive praise from the likes of Thatcher, William F. Buckley, Fukuyama, and Ronald Coase should be sending off warning lights in the head of every liberal. This is not to say that De Soto's argument has no merit, but he overemphasizes the importance of a single variable, property rights. The idea that property rights and entrepreneurship alone could solve the developing world's problems is naive - the very unequal distribution of property and wealth is of fundamental importance, especially in Latin America. Read the book, but read other Latin American economists as well...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2002

    a few holes, but overall a good read

    I thought this book was clearly written and its thesis well developed. It tended to be really repetitive though. I liked the fact that he provided insights as to how countries such as Peru and Egypt currently operate via an ¿extralegal¿ sector. One issue he did not deal with was the possibility of countries failing to develop economically even if formal legal property rights and deeds are drawn if the government institutions that regulate and enforce them are corrupt. He does not recognize this as a possible outcome. Rather, he assumes that there will not be any obstacles once nations establish a widespread formal property law. de Soto also ignores the role of rapid globalization in the ¿poor countries.¿ There are a host of First World organizations in the Third World. Even if his idea for development works, I doubt it would lead to sustained development. If all of the assets he describes are indeed capitalized in the Third World, I think that the agencies from the First World would probably try to capitalize off the assets. The First World will still have much more money and a much greater capacity to create money and can thus buy up and swallow them all. Overall though, this book is a "must read" because the thesis is so novel and creative.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2002

    Un excelente punto de vista

    Muchos que vivimos en paises en desarrollo no podemos entender porque no podemos triunfar en un progreso sostenido que nos lleve a elevar el nivel de nuestra poblacion en general. Hernando de Soto nos explica en su tesis la falta de un cuerpo legal que sostenga el sistema capitalista en el cual vive nuestro planeta. Lealo.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2001

    A *must* read.

    A great number of people have wondered why capitalism works in some countries but fails miserably in most others. Mr. de Soto has clearly laid out the answer. He presents his thesis in the first ten pages and then goes on to develop his ideas.There is no need to look elsewhere for the explanation to this question. 'The Mystery of Capital' gives the definitive answer. The book is very well written. I think that this book will be considered a 'must read' for many decades to come. Highly recommended.

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