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Opinion
Clive Crook

How Criminals Built Capitalism

Capitalism needed crooks, swindlers, and rogues to keep evolving.
Naval hero, fraudster, builder of capitalism?

Naval hero, fraudster, builder of capitalism?

Photographer: Kim Traynor via Wikimedia Commons

Whenever buyers and sellers get together, opportunities to fleece the other guy arise. The history of markets is, in part, the history of lying, cheating and stealing -- and of the effort down the years to fight commercial crime.

In fact, the evolution of the modern economy owes more than you might think to these outlaws. That's the theme of "Forging Capitalism: Rogues, Swindlers, Frauds, and the Rise of Modern Finance" by Ian Klaus. It's a history of financial crimes in the 19th and early 20th centuries that traces a recurring sequence: new markets, new ways to cheat, new ways to transact and secure trust. As Klaus says, criminals helped build modern capitalism.