Understanding the capitalist system: realism, political economy and ecological economics

Realism in economics and the social sciences suggests that methodology should be adapted to the nature of the object of study.

It is prima facie odd, then, that very little discussion of the nature of the fundamental constituents of the capitalist economy is to be found in economics and social science. What is value, as in the ‘value’ of commodities that we encounter in everyday life? What is ‘capital’? What is ‘GDP’? What is ‘economic growth’? Mainstream economics broadly ignores these questions or believes them to be answered in terms of methodological and ontological individualism and reductionism. The tradition of political economy offers a non-individualist and non-reductionist starting point - but no consensus as regards these rather basic questions that are central to economics and social science.

This presentation will argue that a dialectical approach to systems can help. Firstly, it is stressed that capitalism is a complex and developing system or totality. Secondly, it is argued that systematic dialectics helps the theorist to carefully integrate abstract characteristics and concrete developments of such a system, in explaining the nature of value and capital. The argument will be illustrated and developed by reference to recent debates in ecological economics, which are very revealing as regards the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary academic disciplinary distinctions.

Location Details

12.25 Social Sciences Building
University of Leeds

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