Political Economy of Capitalism

Political economy provides a unique theoretical perspective from which to think about and analyze the economy in terms of its structure, organization, and dynamics. Just as the economy is essential to the life of a community, an understanding of the economy is important to any community study. The methodological approach used by economists, including political economists, emphasizes the development and application of complex theoretical structures or models. A theoretical model tries to capture the essentials of an economic system, traditional economic theory focuses almost exclusively on exchange, buying and selling, supply and demand, and constructs a theoretical model based on rational self-maximizing individual agents. Like traditional economic theory, political economy tries to capture the essentials of an economic system, however, rather than focusing on exchange and rational maximizing agents, the theory of political economy focuses on power, groups and change, and constructs its model of the basis of class based exploitation and domination.

No matter the focus, both perspectives have in common an abstract, theoretical approach which distinguishes the discipline of economics. This approach to understanding the world (epistemology) comes from the Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, an intellectual movement of mostly men who today continue to dominate the discipline of economics, although less so in the case of ppolitical economy. This is pointed out not to cast doubt on theoretical approaches but to place such an approach in a methodological context that recognizes many different standpoints or vantage points from which to understand and give meaning to our lives and the world around us. Political economy represents one such standpoint.

This segment of the Mosaic Semester will provide a brief introduction to the theory of political economy in which the foundations of capitalism will be examined. Once we have examined these theoretical foundations, we will examine the history of the U.S. capitalism from a political economy perspective tracing its development from the colonial conquest of America to the contemporary global capitalist era today.


"Working through the American Mosaic in Steelton has been an incredible experience in so many ways. First of all academically. I never would have taken a political economy class, let alone enjoyed it. In this project however, it was put into another context which made it easier to understand and appreciate. My dad, the economist will recognize this." Alexis Hinchey, Dickinson student in the American Mosaic