Sarfraz Wali is the winner of the ‘Best Paper Award’ at the Shariah Economic Conference 2013 organised by the Journal of Islamic Perspectives on Science, Technology and Society.
Does the Islamic economic system have the answers to the endless perils of global capitalism? Sarfraz Wali reviews an insightful new book that may have the answer.
Comparative Economics: Islam’s Pancea to the Maladies of Capitalism is the culmination of a broad based study on the dominant mode of economic thought across the advanced and developing world, which we have formally come to know as “Capitalism”. This economic system had its watershed from the revolutions brought on by the 18th century Scottish philosopher Adam Smith and in particular, his 1776 work entitled ‘The Wealth of Nations’ from which the Classical School of Economics was born. This school of thought formed the backbone to all subsequent developments and broke from the prior Mercantilist order in a radical way.
Despite some minor and major changes to the classical model, capitalism has remained the cornerstone of contemporary economic thought and discourse, projecting itself as the only viable form of economic management across the globe. It is against this intellectual hegemony with its unspoken assumptions that this thought provoking work has emerged; to elucidate and question the very fabric of the current economic paradigm.
The author, Ibn Caesar, carefully and meticulously explores the present system and its key facets. In fact, this book goes further than almost any other of its kind, and even further than some, very challenging work, such as “Capital in the 21st Century” by the French economist Thomas Piketty, who attributes growing wealth inequality to the very principles of Capitalism itself.
This book transcends other economic literature for two key reasons:
Firstly, it uses a systematic, yet critical method (of root and branch) to expose the Capitalist order and secondly, it offers a detailed alternative that solves contemporary issues in the free market, with practical examples in each case. In this regard, it is quite groundbreaking, particularly within the genre that critiques the Capitalist system. However, the literary style is reasonably technical and readers who are not familiar with economic terminology may struggle in some respects.
Capitalism and the Islamic Economic System
As far as the content is concerned, it dedicates each chapter to breaking down key areas of the Capitalist approach towards economic management, whilst presenting a synopsis of the main problems arising from the manner in which the issue in question is currently managed. It subsequently demonstrates how the Islamic Economic System would practically resolve the very same matter in a radically different way. Each chapter concludes with a vision of how the alternative would manifest in a modern context, so as to show clearly the depth and unique character of the Islamic economic model. Through such a style, the author dispels the myth that there is no alternative to the sophisticated Capitalist order, along with the misnomer that any other system is merely ‘tinkering around the edges’.
Each section of the book takes the reader on a journey, from the fundamental premises to the root execution of the thought. The book itself is composed of thirteen chapters and for the purpose of this brief summary; I shall group them into three broad, yet key categories:
- An explanation as to why the Muslim world, under the previous leadership of (the Caliphate), has been reduced from its former, more powerful economic state to its current degenerated one.
- Defining characteristics of the Capitalist system, its errors and the Islamic alternative at its most fundamental level.
- A like-for-like comparison between the various subsystems of the Capitalist order and the Islamic solution to core issues within each of them.
In regards to the third category, which constitutes the bulk of the book, the author’s comparative analysis seems to coincide with topical areas that have recently come to the fore within economic discourse of both the academic and the layman, who have been affected in various ways post financial crisis.
Chapters in the third section of the book include some of the core problems that currently pervade us, such as unemployment, financial instability and debt. We also find solutions offered by the Capitalist system, which proponents deem to be credible responses to the inherent problems of the free market. The author questions these solutions in great detail, only to then demonstrate how each are self inflicted problems that are sourced within the fundamental flaws of the current capitalist ideology.
In summary, this book is very authentic, insofar as it begins the much-needed discussion on how certain economic systems within a rapidly changing world are able to effectively deal and manage the unique challenges that humans face. It is very reasonably priced and should be part of any serious commentator’s bookshelf.
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