17.100J | Spring 2016 | Graduate

Political Economy I


Essay One

Please choose and write on one of these two topics:

  1. Consider the origins and evolution of property. How is this issue treated in different schools of thought (paradigms)? How might these different conceptions of property be brought to bear in contemporary policy debates. Please take one policy issue and briefly illustrate how the different theoretical approaches might affect how we formulate policy.[Note: You do not need to be a specialist on the policy issue to use the case as an illustration of your point. Some possibilities might be: Property rights in transition from socialist economies to capitalist economies; redistributive tax policy, intellectual property disputes over patenting traditional medicines or life forms; mortgage lenders vs. mortgage borrowers in current controversies.]

  2. Both Marxists and liberal theorists are concerned with power and its abuses. Both also see private property as key to an understanding of how power is exercised and how power might be limited or turned to new ends. But Marxists and liberals seem to arrive at opposite conceptions of the role of property: Liberals see property as a possible restraint on power whereas Marxists see property at the source and origin of power. Why do the two approaches reach such different conclusions? Do the differences reflect differences in definitions of power and property? Or something else?

    Do these differences matter? To illustrate your conclusion on this point, please take one contemporary policy problem in which both power and property seem to be at stake and compare and contrast the approaches that Marxist and liberal perspectives provide. You do not need to be a specialist on this policy issue. (A few possible problem areas might be limits on political campaign spending, cap and trade, nationalization of banks.)

    Your essay should be 12–15 pages, double-spaced.

Essay Two

Please write an essay on one of the following two topics:

  1. The concept of an “information revolution” suggests that there are deep similarities between the transformation of society during the “industrial revolution” and those changes that are taking place today as the result of new technologies. What do the major literatures of political economy offer as theoretical approaches to a systematic understanding of such “revolutions”?
  2. Consider the role of markets and the state in different approaches to understanding a capitalist economy. Are markets a necessary condition for the emergence of capitalism and for the reproduction of capitalism over time? Are they a sufficient condition? Is state action required to create and maintain the markets in a capitalist economy? Or can markets be self-regulating (or in “equilibrium”) without state action? Can the state substitute for markets? Integrate answers to these questions in an essay that draws on several of the paradigms presented in the class.

The essay should be 12–15 pages, double-spaced.

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