Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Capitalism, Socialism, Localism Bleg

I haven't done one of these for a fairly long time, but it's time to call upon the wisdom of the internet once more.

Next semester I'll being teaching my Topics in Political Theory course, which I only have a chance to do here at Friends once every couple of years. I seriously considered doing Ancient and Medieval Political Thought, since I haven't taught Plato, et al, in ages, and I kind of miss them. Still, after bouncing that and a couple of other ideas around with my colleagues, I've decided the time has come for a good survey of the social and political theories behind various approaches to economic policy. Thus: "Capitalism, Socialism, Localism." I have in mind a nice announcement flyer for it as well, featuring Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, and Jesus. (Guess which one is which.)

That just leaves a question of the assigned reading material. This will be a 300-level course, so the majority of the students will be juniors and seniors, though given how small the program is at Friends, I may well end up with some sophomores in there. What should form the basic foundation of the course, and what are the best books or essays to deliver that foundation? Selections of Adam Smith (but which?) and Karl Marx are a must, of course. I also dearly want to include Rousseau's "Discourse on Political Economy" in there, if only so I can make use of the new (Jacob-Levy-recommended, and quite good) The Problems and Promise of Commercial Society: Adam Smith's Response to Rousseau, though it (and Rousseau too; I'd probably have to require them to read the "Second Discourse" first) will probably be way over their heads. G.A. Cohen's last (and simply terrific) little book Why Not Socialism? will probably also be assigned. For some introductory background, I'll probably use that stand-by, Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers, unless someone has a better suggestion for a general primer. As a analytical framework for the class, looking closely as libertarian, liberal egalitarian, and socialist approaches to markets, I like Stephen Nathanson's Economic Justice. As for localism, I'll probably use some Wendell Berry (Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community is probably his best collection for this purpose, though though he has other essays which address economic localism more specifically), but Bill McKibben's Deep Economy is also tempting. Some essays by Lawrence Goodwyn would also be nice to bring the explictly populist People's Party perspective into it, though there's no way I'll be able to include everything.

So, what do you think? What am I missing, and what should I throw out? Should I add something by de Soto, Friedman, Nozick, Krugman, Polanyi, or others? If so, what is expendable? I throw myself upon your good graces and knowledge, Fair People of the Internets. Guide me in my hour of need, preferably before book orders come due on November 1.

17 comments:

Sam C said...

I'm in the process of planning a somewhat similar course, 'Ethics of Capitalism' (so I hope to blag the results of your bleg). A couple of initial suggestions: (1) advocates of local craft and self-sufficiency like Thoreau or William Morris (and perhaps Richard Sennett more recently); (2) anarchists like Peter Kropotkin or Josiah Warren.

Chris Bertram said...

Some Jane Jacobs perhaps?

Colin Ward's Anarchy in Action? or (what I think may be the same book in different packaging) his Anarchism: A Short Introduction.

dj redundant said...

Sam's suggestions seem spot-on. But I would also ask a couple of questions:
1. Why 'socialism'? It seems like a straw-man argument at this point (and too contaminated by communism and that whole cold-war thing). I am not dismissing socialism in the european sense, but Karl Marx seems a bit dated and polemic nowadays.
2. How about setting some time window for further nuance? Take no text older than 20 years or something...

Jacob T. Levy said...

First suggestion:

Sarah Palin? Ew.

For that kind of class, you'll necessarily end up using WN Book I ch 1-2, and I suspect you'll be inclined to balance it out with the deadening effects stuff from Book V. But I also nominate to your attention TMS section III ("out of debt" and "meanest laborer" passages), and generally the TMS material about the happiness and virtue available to the ordinarily prudent person of low station, and the illusion involved in the ceaseless pursuit of wealth and status. (I think Rasmussen has all the cites.) You might also foreshadow localism with the TMS material on circles of sympathy.

Friedman, Free to Choose or Capitalism and Freedom, is likely to be more accessible than Nozick or Hayek, if what you want is just "yay capitalism." But have a look at The Fatal Conceit-- you might find it very directly on-point for this class, since it's where Hayek explicitly charges socialism with being an anachronistic extension of localism, and so where he engages with localism and traditionalism in a way that you won't find in Friedman.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Great thoughts everyone; thanks.

Sam, I was really taken by Crawford's Shop Class as Soulcraft, so something which addresses craftsmenship/self-sufficiency more directly is quite appealing. I'll check Richard Sennett out.

Chris, both good suggestions. I've heard of Colin Ward's book, but I haven't read it; I'll have to check it out.

DJ, I have to disagree; I think Marx remains very relevant, and is worth teaching, despite the baggage.

Jacob, thanks very much for the specific recommendations from Smith (and in particular the stuff from Theory of Moral Sentiments; I hadn't thought about that at all). And The Fatal Conceit is a fascinating idea; I've never read it, but you make we want to give it a serious look. If it can bridge critiques of socialism and localism, then it might be ideal.

Keep the ideas coming, everyone!

djw said...

Sounds like fun, Russell.

My late undergraduate mentor Ken Hoover taught a similar class for many years, and for the last few years he taught it he adopted Jerry Muller's The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought as his main secondary text. I picked it up on his recommendation, and haven't given it a thorough read, although I've dipped into specific chapters (Smith, Burke, Marx, Weber and Simmel) here and there when preparing to teach. THe chapter on Moser ("THe Market as destroyer of culture") might be particularly useful on localism.

harry b said...

Stuart White has a really terrific paper about Colin Ward that is well worth reading yourself if you assign Ward, and probably worth getting the students to read.

I adore the 1844 manuscripts ever since teaching them, very critically and sceptically, to a bunch of business students, and getting lots of class comments and papers defending Marx fiercely. I think Marx is uncontaminated now because most students have no idea who he was.

Schor's The Overspent American, maybe?

Nate Oman said...

I think that you need to include some Hayek. He's a more compelling defender of the market than Nozick, in my opinion. I would suggest "The Uses of Knowledge in Society." For economics, it depends on if you want a text that marches you historically through economic thought or one that surveys current economic thinking. On the historical front, the Worldly Philosophers is probably not bad. You might also check out _New Ideas from Dead Economists_. If you want a survey of current theories, I would suggest Coyle's _The Soulful Science_. Have you considered Novak's _The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism_. I liked Samuel Fleischacker's _A Short History of Distributive Justice_. He has a book on Adam Smith that you might take a look at. Oxford has a pretty nice abridgment of the _Wealth of Nations_, although I think that if you look at the Wealth of Nations, you also need to include something from the Theory of Moral Sentiments to make sure that you don't make the mistake of anachronistically reading Smith as a neo-classical economist. Amartya Sen also has a lot of discussion of Smith in _The Idea of Justice_. You might also want to pick up some histories of economic development like Rosenberg & Birdzell, _How the West Grew Rich_ or Gordon's _An Empire of Wealth_, which are both very accessible. For a better but more technical book, take a look at Douglas North et al, _Violence and Social Orders_. Two other books you might want to consider for economic/historical background are Robert Pipes _Property and Freedom_ and Benjamin Friedman, _The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth_, both of which are basically defenses of globalized liberalism.

Anonymous said...

It's a bit out of left-field but I'm a big fan of David Harvey's Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference.
Western Dave

Matt said...

I'd also suggest some Kropotkin- perhaps either his old Encyclopedia Britanica article or some sections from _Mutual Aid_ (both are in the volume _The Essential Kropotkin_ edited by Capouya and Tompkins. The short essay "A Day in the Life of a Socialist Citizen" by Michael Walzer, in his old volume _Obligations: Essays on Disobedience, War, and Citizenship_ might work for you. More difficult, both to teach and to make accessible, but perhaps interesting, might be something by the Russian Narodnosts or Slavophiles. You can find some stuff in the volumes _A History of Russian Thought_ edited by Waicki and/or _A History of Russian Philosophy_, edited by Kuvakin, though I'm less optimistic that this stuff will be interesting and useful for students. I'll try to think a bit more, too.

Matt said...

A few more thoughts: perhaps some of John Gray's post-Hayek phase stuff would work- _False Dawn_, _Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions_ or _Two Faces of Liberalism_. I'm not sure how good any of this is- I think it has a bad reputation among philosophers, but I found a lot of his earlier work useful, and Daniel Davies said he liked a lot of the later, so maybe there's something there. It's a position not often argued for, anyway.

For a pretty radical "localist" view (perhaps too radical to be attractive at all, and so maybe counter-productive for a first class) you could use some of Ivan Illich's work. I've not read it for a long time and don't have enough familiarity with it to suggest specific pieces, but there's lots to choose from. (I'd mostly read the "deschooling" stuff, but other parts might be more directly relevant.)

The essay "Capitalism, 'Property-Owning Democracy', and the Welfare State" by Krouse and McPhereson in the volume _Democracy and the Welfare State_, edited by Amy Gutmann, might be good, as might others in the same volume, though I'm not sure how accessible it is w/o having read, or at least knowing something about, Rawls.

I might think of a few more later.

Hector said...

Hi Russell,

Here are some thoughts of mine:

-Simone Weil (especially for her thoughts about the spiritual meaning of labor, and how industrial society has deformed it)
- R. H. Tawney (British economic historian, Christian-socialist, influential in the early Labour Party)
- Alec Nove for a perceptive analysis (from a socialist, dissenting-Marxist POV, of just what was wrong with wholesale and comprehensive central planning). Read Nove's "The Soviet Economic System" in parallel with Marx, and then try to think about whether or not the Soviet system was a faithful reflection of Marx (I'd say no, personally).
- E.F. Schumacher
- I'd read something about the Yugoslavian "market socialist" economic model, or about anarchist Spain, or about the cooperative movements in Spain and Latin American countries, to get a sense of other twentieth century economic models besides the socialist/central planning vs. capitalist/free enterprise dichotomy we're often used to thinking about)
- Paul Sweezy had some interesting thoughts that seem pretty predictive of our current economic crisis

Stuart said...

I'd like to take this course (alas) and hope you'll give a talk or two locally on some of your thoughts.

I've been wondering about the Cohen book and will buy it on your recommendation.

Some suggestions:

Gar Alperovitz, Just Deserts (short, presents an alternative to marginal distribution justification for wealth)

Alperovitz, America Beyond Capitalism

David Schweickart,
Against Capitalism (and)After Capitalism (probably on the reserve shelf rather than text books)

Mark Engler, How to Rule the World(about current global economics)

Benjamin Ward's Ideal World of Economics:Liberal, Radical, and Conservative Economic World Views (Is out-of-print, but is really good at presenting three schools of economics)

Harrington's Socialism: Past and Present

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I agree with Hector about Tawney; it's been a long time but I recall his critical writing on capitalism as humorous, accessible and incisive.

Abe Fox said...

Hey, Russell - Where is the F.M.V.? I need my weekly memory-exercising-injection.

Nate Oman said...

A final, late thought: If you are going to have readings about labor, I suggest Hannah Arendt's discussion in _The Human Condition_.

Nathan P. Origer said...

Throwing some Röpke into the mix might be interesting — if anyone has successfully "baptized Mises", then it's probably Röpke, the "liberal conservative", the "Austrian Distributist", who manages pretty impressively to synthesize Burke, Belloc, and the Austrians.

For a more strictly localist view, with some undeniable prescient regarding the welfare state, Belloc's The Servile State may be worth considering, too.