Who Makes Cents?: A History of Capitalism Podcast

Jessica Levy

  • 31 minutes 28 seconds
    Cheryl Narumi Naruse on Singapore, Postcolonial Capitalism, and Becoming Global Asia

    In this month's episode, co-host Jessica Levy and guest Cheryl Narumi Naruse examine popular narratives surrounding Singapore's "miraculous" journey from Third to First world nation, currently ranked third in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product per capita. The episode takes a particular look at the period leading up to and following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, during which this tiny island city-state underwent a massive rebranding campaign to transform its reputation from a culturally sterile and punitive nation to an alluring location for economic flourishing. Topics discussed include Singapore’s relationship with a core constituency of Global Asia, namely Overseas Singaporeans, genres of postcolonial capitalism, and much, much more.

    5 May 2024, 4:16 pm
  • 39 minutes 50 seconds
    Ben Waterhouse on the Dream and Reality of Self Employment

    One recent study found that 81% of businesses in the United States have zero employees. That is, they are run by sole proprietors, working for and by themselves, The ideal of self-employment has become dominant in our culture, too. More Americans than ever dream of becoming an entrepreneur, an independent owner, a founder.

    But for all of its prevalence in our economy and in our imaginations, the origins of this impulse are a bit hazy. When did so many of us begin to idolize self-employment? What might it reveal about broader shifts in the employment landscape in the 20th and 21st centuries? In his new book, One Day I'll Work for Myself: The Dream and Delusion That Conquered America, Ben Waterhouse answers precisely those questions. He explains how the rise of self-employment dates back to the economic transformations of the 1970s and intensified during the decades of precarity that followed. In our wide-ranging conversation, we touch on everything from franchise jurisprudence to the gig economy to the surprising story behind the Sam Adams beer company.

    2 April 2024, 9:00 am
  • 45 minutes 6 seconds
    Brent Cebul on Business, Inequality, and American Liberalism

    Most scholars would date the origins of neoliberalism to the 1970s, when a range of crises gave rise to new forms of market-oriented governance.

    But Brent Cebul, our guest on this month's episode, argues that liberalism’s sharp turn towards neoliberalism wasn’t so sharp after all. In fact, as early as the New Deal, liberals tried to realize their policy goals through market means. And officials in Washington worked hand-in-hand with otherwise conservative business and municipal elites on those development programs. Throughout the entirety of the long twentieth century, liberals have bound their visions of progress to the local needs of capital. In the process, they’ve ended up entrenching the very inequalities that they had set out to solve in the first place.


    5 March 2024, 8:18 pm
  • 46 minutes
    Tim Keogh on Suburban Poverty and the Roots of Postwar Inequality

    In 2022, roughly one in 10 suburban residents lived in poverty (9.6%), compared to about one in six in primary cities (16.2%), according to a recent study by the Brookings Institute. The issue of suburban poverty has garnered significant attention, prompting more than a bit of nostalgia for the good ole days of when suburbs were prosperous, living proof of the American dream. This narrative of postwar suburbia as prosperous, if also exclusive places, has been reinforced by historians and other scholars who, over the years, have shown how the federal government via FHA-insured mortgages and other programs facilitated a dramatic rise in suburban homeownership after WWII, while laregely restricting access through covenants and zoning laws to White Americans.

    But is this the full story? In this month's episode, Tim Keogh challenges this narrative, demonstrating that for many the postwar American suburban dream was more myth than reality. Alongside exclusive white middle-class communities, Keogh explains how the suburbs have long served as home to low-income residents, whose labor in construction, retail, childcare and a range of other low-wage jobs helped enable suburban prosperity in the absence of a robust welfare state. Along the way, we explore the policy decisions that helped to ensure poverty's persistence alongside prosperity and what we can do today to eliminate poverty wherever it might appear.



    6 February 2024, 7:23 pm
  • 41 minutes 6 seconds
    Premilla Nadasen on the Care Economy and the Potential for Radical Care

    Today, discussions of care are ubiquitous. From employer-programs promoting self-care to the $800 billion healthcare industry, care forms a central part of our lives and the economy. But, are the systems and structures currently in place to care serving those who need it the most? This month's episode, featuring historian and activist Premilla Nadasen, takes a close look at the care economy and its relationship to racial capitalism and the reconfiguration of the welfare state. Along the way, we talk about the rise of the care-industrial-complex, wherein private corporations and non-profits benefit from public investment in care; what it's like for those who work in the care industry; and what a caring society built on radical care, as opposed to care-for-profit, might look like. 

    8 January 2024, 4:46 pm
  • 46 minutes 38 seconds
    Hannah Forsyth on the Rise and Fall of the Professional Class in the Anglophone World

    Are you a professional living and working in an English-speaking country? If so, this episode is for you.

    Teachers, doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers, lawyers, social workers, the list goes on, professionals play an important role in our society. This wasn't always the case. This episode explores the rise of the professional class in the Anglophone world, including engaging in a decades-old question of whether or not professionals constitute a class. Topics covered include the role that professionals played in the rise of Anglo-settler colonialism; the relationship between the professions and virtue; racial, gendered, and class identities among professionals; and the intensifying battle between professionals and managers. Once seen as allied in administering the global welfare state, professionals and managers, in recent decades, have increasingly found themselves on opposing sides—a conflict made pronounced, in the United States, at least, by a series of recent teachers and nurses strikes, among other examples.

    7 November 2023, 3:08 am
  • 36 minutes 49 seconds
    Bart Elmore on Southern Companies Remaking our Economy and the Planet

    An iced cold Coca-Cola. A cross-country flight on Delta to visit friends. A much-needed medication overnighted via Fed-Ex. Bulk toilet paper purchased at Wal-Mart. What do these items have in common?  In today’s modern economy, each of these can be purchased from the comfort of the couch, frequently with a credit card pioneered by Bank of America. They are all also from companies headquartered in the American South. In this month's episode, historian Bart Elmore explains how corporations from the American South helped make it possible for us to satisfy our desires from the convenience of our home and/or hometown, no matter how remote, and the environmental costs associated with each.

    4 September 2023, 1:03 am
  • 31 minutes 12 seconds
    Mark Erlich on the Way We Build and Restoring Dignity to Construction Work

    This month's episode gives a nod to one of the figures in our logo: the construction worker. Our guest, Mark Erlich has worked in the construction industry as a carpenter and union leader for a half century. In this episode, he shares his insights on the industry's past, present, and future, paying particular attention to the politics and material conditions surrounding construction work. In response to those who argue that today's labor shortages in the construction industry are the result of societal preferences, Erlich points to the decades-long degradation of construction work, including declining pay and protections. Fix those and you'll solve the labor problem.

    2 August 2023, 7:03 pm
  • 49 minutes 3 seconds
    Chelsea Schields on Oil, Intimacy, and the Offshore

    In this month's episode, guest Chelsea Schields discusses oil refining and intimacy, illuminating the social ties and affective attachments engendered by oil in the Dutch islands of Aruba and Curaçao. Known today for their gorgeous beaches and sunny weather that attract tourists year-round, during the mid-twentieth century these islands were home to some of the largest oil refineries in the world. Along the way, we cover topics such as  the role of race and gender in structuring labor relations; inter and intra imperial politics; migration; anti-colonial and anti-welfare movements; the 'offshore'; and much much more. 

    3 July 2023, 6:53 pm
  • 49 minutes 18 seconds
    Joan Flores-Villalobos on How Black Women's Labor Made the Panama Canal

    When it was completed in 1914, the Panama Canal nearly halved the travel time between the U.S. West Coast and Europe and revolutionized trade and travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It’s construction, overseen by the U.S. government-Isthmian Canal Commission (ICC), has long been hailed as a marvel of American ingenuity. Less well-known was the project’s dependence on the labor of Black migrant women. In this episode, Joan Flores-Villalobos demonstrates how Black West Indian women’s intimate lives and labor were at the center of the Panama Canal’s construction, explaining how they built a provisioning economy that proved critical to the canal’s development and the maintenance of the West Indian diaspora.

    4 May 2023, 11:04 am
  • 42 minutes 19 seconds
    Christy Thornton on Mexico, Development, and Governing the Global Economy

    In this month's episode, Christy Thornton discusses the surprising influence of post-revolutionary Mexico on some of the twentieth century's most important international economic institutions, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Triangulating between archives in Mexico, the United States, and Great Britain, Thornton traces how Mexican officials repeatedly led the charge among Third World nations campaigning for greater representation within and redistribution through multilateral institutions created to promote international development and finance. In doing so, she recovers the crucial role played by Mexican economists, diplomats, and politicians in shaping global economic governance and U.S. hegemony during the mid-twentieth century.

    5 April 2023, 8:44 pm
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