Critical Political Economics: Historical Foundations to Contemporary Issues


Karl Marx’s analysis of capitalism remains one of the most significant contributions to economic theory in the history of economic thought. This course will focus on Marx’s analysis of capitalism—although, when relevant, we will also discuss other authors such as Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Polanyi, and Joseph Schumpeter. We will begin with the notion of surplus value and extend it to a general discussion of Marx’s distinction between production and nonproduction activities. We will then proceed to the analyses of capital accumulation, technological change, industrial competition, the recurrence of generalized economic crises, and the persistence of unemployment. Marx’s theory of competition will be used to study two issues: first, to study wage differentials on the basis of race and gender faced by workers with similar skill levels; and second, to discuss rent in agriculture and mining, an issue that will lead to the analysis of oil crises. Readings will primarily draw on selected sections from Capital (volumes I, II, and III), as well as some writings of a number of contemporary political economists. This course requires some background in economics/social sciences and an interest in historically informed analysis.