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Accumulation of Capital

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The accumulation of capital has been analysed by economists in two very different ways. The most common has been to see it as the expansion of the productive potential of an economy with a given technology, which may be improved in the process. But it has also been understood as the outright transformation of the technical and productive organization of the economy. The first approach leads to analyses based on the idea of steady growth, subsuming the concerns of the second under the heading of ‘technical progress’. Such an approach rests on a conception of capital as productive goods or, in more sophisticated versions, as a fund providing command over productive goods. This is not wrong; it is merely inadequate. Capital must also be understood as a way of organizing production and economic activity, so that the accumulation of capital is the extension of this form of organization into areas in which production, exchange and distribution were governed by other rules. This conception of capital emphasizes the importance of organization; so understood, technology and engineering are not abstract science, they are ways of organizing production, and so have an institutional dimension. Accumulation then implies the transformation of institutions as well as production, and steady growth is not applicable (except perhaps as a benchmark).


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This chapter was originally published in The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, 1st edition, 1987. Edited by John Eatwell, Murray Milgate and Peter Newman

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Nell, E.J. (1987). Accumulation of Capital. In: Durlauf, S., Blume, L. (eds) The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-349-95121-5

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