Throughout most of history, the level of economic wealth has changed very little. Only with the onset of the industrial revolution did it begin to accelerate, leading to unpre ce dented levels of economic production and affluence. This shift began in a few European countries and in North America, but ultimately, over the course of the twentieth century, it spread to almost all regions of the world; today economic and social development across the globe is shaped by the dynamics of capitalism, in the form of growth as well as recurrent economic crises.
What explains the extraordinary momentum of the capitalist economy? Scholars of capitalism trace the dramatic creation of wealth that began in the late eigh teenth century to a plethora of factors: among them are technological advances, institutional changes, the division of labor, the expansion of trade, commodification processes, competition, exploitation, the increase in production factors, and cultural developments.
The deep crises capitalism has witnessed again and again are attributed to overaccumulation, regulatory failure, lack of investment and consumption, psychological factors, and miscalculations of risk. As comprehensive as these explanations are, they pay only limited attention to another, no less essential aspect of capitalist dynamics: its temporal order.