WHAT'S THEORY GOT TO DO WITH IT?
Questions to ponder



 
 
 
Content:    What is the utility of the concept of class process in doing comparative economic systems?   | How is capitalism different from self-exploitation/self-employment?   |   What is the difference between capitalism and feudalism?   |    What is the class structure of a corporation?   |   What are the implications of the distinction between productive and unproductive capital?   |   What are the comparative systems implications of alternative planning systems?   |   Is social democratic/welfare state public policy compatible with capitalism?   |   Does the term socialism have any social scientific meaning?   |    What is communism?

In order to develop your semester long research paper in comparative economic systems, you will need to familiarize yourself with a range of terms not deployed in many non-comparative economics courses.  In order to "compare," one needs to know what the processes are that are being compared.  Among the processes that may provide raw material for the construction of your paper are:  economic processes, including fundamental and subsumed class processes (as elaborated by Resnick and Wolff) and market processes (different types of transaction arrangements, rules, and institutions), political processes (including various forms of regulation of economic life), cultural processes (religion, language, educational processes, media, etc.), and environmental processes.  Given that our focus begins with the economic, you will certainly want to be clear about how certain economic processes are shaped by both other economic processes, as well as non-economic social and environmental processes.  As you do the early reading, you should continually ask yourself --- how do I make use of these new ideas in formulating my thesis and then proceeding with my argument? 
 
 

What is the utility of the concept of class process in doing comparative economic systems?

As you do the readings, think about how to apply the concepts of fundamental and subsumed class process to formulating a thesis and/or making a theoretical/empirical argument in favor of a thesis.  How can you make use of the specific types of class processes, e.g. capitalist, feudal, ancient, communist?

How is capitalism different from self-exploitation/self-employment?

The term "capitalism" is often used in an overly broad sense, reducing the term to a polemical device.  However, historically capitalism has referred to a very specific economic process involving the employment of free wage laborers.  Does it matter in a society if self-employed producers are relatively abundant and free to engage in self-exploitation?  If it does matter, then how would you go about analyzing how the conditions of existence for self-exploitation differ from the conditions of existence of capitalism?  Do these differences create tensions between the two alternative economic processes, capitalist exploitation versus self-exploitation?

What is the difference between capitalism and feudalism?

This is similar to the question above.  However, you should also consider the alternative types of landlords that may exist in social formations.  Is it possible that sometimes a landlord is feudal appropriator and sometimes not?  Are some landlords recipients of subsumed class payments in non-feudal class processes (e.g. the ancient, capitalist, communist)?  Does the term landlord have many meanings?

What is the class structure of a corporation?

Is there a single answer to the above question or multiple possible answers?  What is the difference between a private and a state-owned enterprise?  How might you formulate a comparative economic systems thesis that makes use of the class analysis of alternative types of corporations?

What are the implications of the distinction between productive and unproductive capital?

One of the outputs of comparative systems analysis would include implications for the impact of different systems upon economic development.  Do the concepts of productive and unproductive capital play a role in producing such output?  If so, what is this role?

What are the comparative systems implications of different types of planning processes? 

We need to have a strong sense of the role of different types of political and cultural processes, both within the state and within enterprises (as well as, perhaps, other social institutions) in shaping systemic difference.  Among these political and cultural processes are planning systems and plan implementation (and enforcement) processes.  What is the difference between indicative planning and centralized, command planning, for instance?  Is it possible to have a form of capitalism with centralized planning?  What about with centralized, command planning?  Think carefully about the relationship of alternative planning regimes with various class processes.

Is social democratic/welfare state public policy compatible with capitalism?

This is another question related to political processes and class processes.  Ultimately, we want a sense of the possible variant forms of economic systems.  For example, there may be a wide range of different kinds of capitalism, all sharing the same underlying prevalent class process, but differing in prevalent political and cultural systems.

Does the term socialism have any social scientific meaning?

This is not dealt with in any great detail in any of the readings.  Perhaps we can deal with this question, in part, by process of elimination, given that the other papers do provide us with the raw material to define self-employment/self-exploitation (ancientism), feudalism, capitalism, and communism.

What is communism (as an economic process, rather than a political ideology or polemical concept)?

This is a critical concept.  We must gain a strong sense of what this term means, as an economic concept, in order to avoid the pitfalls of the long history of using this term in polemical arguments.  There are a number of references to communism in the readings, although the Resnick and Wolff paper provides the most elaborated discussion.

© Satya J. Gabriel, 9 February, 2001
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