Capitalism and Its Critics >> Content Detail



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A course calendar is available below.

Course Overview

This course focuses on capitalism and its critics in the context of the historical evolution of advanced industrial society. It will consider two major issues: the relative roles of markets and the state and the balance between individual rights and social responsibilities in the organization of economic activity. The structuring theme of the course is Thomas Kuhn's notion of a scientific paradigm. The course examines several different paradigms which have been used to analyze and understand capitalism in the context of the historical period in which those paradigms initially emerged and the specific political and economic problems with which they were designed to deal.

Subject Matter

The material is organized under four broad headings:

  • Liberalism and neoclassical economics
  • Marxism
  • Theories of the corporate state
  • Theories about the social embeddedness of economic activity

The course will use fictional and ethnographic accounts of individual economic achievement to highlight and sharpen the alternative ways of thinking about the social and political dimensions of economic activity. The issue of individualism and its relationship to capitalist growth and development is first introduced through The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. We return to examine these questions again at the end of the course in the context of Watson's autobiographical account of the discovery of DNA, The Double Helix, and Tracy Kidder's study of product development in the computer industry, The Soul of the New Machine, both of which raise questions about the role of individuals relative to social groups and broader intellectual communities in modern economic development.

Course Requirements

The course will require three types of written exercises: exams, formal papers, and weekly reactions to the readings.


There will be two exams: a midterm in Ses #15, and a final examination at the end of the term.  (The midterm does not count but is used to give students an idea of what to expect for the final.)


This course is a HASS-D subject and requires 25 pages of coherent essay. This requirement will normally be met through three essays of 7-9 pages each, the first due in Ses #9, the second in Ses #17, and the third in Ses #23.

Reflections on the Readings

Students are required to keep a written journal consisting of two or three pages of informal reflections on the readings each week. These should identify the most important issues which the readings pose and attempt to characterize the perspective which the authors take upon the relationship between the economy and the state and/or the relative roles of individual and social forces in economic growth and development.


Three papers (15% each)45%
Final Exam50%


Students are urged to purchase the following texts:

Amazon logo Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. Centennial ed. New York, NY: Signet, 1996. ISBN: 0451191153.

Amazon logo Watson, James D. The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA. New York, NY: Touchstone, 2001. ISBN: 074321630X.

Amazon logo Kidder, Tracy. The Soul of a New Machine. Reprint ed. New York, NY: Modern Library, 1997. ISBN: 0679602615.


Introduction and Overview
1The Evolution of the Industrial State
2Paradigms and History: Kuhn, Foley, Rawls
Liberalism and Neoclassical Economics
3Film: The Fountainhead
4Discussion of Rand
5Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom
Marxism, Economics, and Politics
8Marxism: The Manifesto
9ElsterEssay I due
10Capital, The Division of Labor and Machinery
11Bowles and Gintis
The Social Embeddedness of the Economy
16Review Session
17Midterm ExamMidterm exam
18KeynesEssay II due
The Corporate State
20Galbraith and Solow
21Piore and Sabel
Civic Republicanism
23Hannah Arendt
24Lester and PioreEssay III due
26The Soul of the New Machine
27The Double Helix


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