Wealth, Inequality & Capitalist Accumulation

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSGA2GS4064

Semester and Year Offered: 2nd Semester, 1st Year

Course Coordinator and Team: Kaustav Banerjee

Email of course coordinator:

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: The course is in line with the vision of the University in imagining non-hierarchical spaces of globality. To do so, the course draws upon the discourses of political economy to understand the myriad global hierarchies that result from the accumulation of wealth, status and the cumulative production of inequalities. It has an interdisciplinary approach with a wide array of readings from the social sciences thereby equipping students to comprehend different writings by scholars who have specialised in a specific discipline. The specific programme, that is, MAGS takes the problems arising out of global inequities seriously, and for that reason, this is one of its six major themes. The course focuses on the use of political economy to study the accumulation of wealth and the cumulative production of inequalities under capitalism. 1 % of the world population own 40% of the global assets. The richest 2% of the world population own more than 51% of the global assets; the richest 10 % own 85 % of the global assets. All this while, almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day; more than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where wealth and income inequalities are rising. The classical understanding of capitalism is of course in terms of class. The history of capitalism however, points to a recurring overlap between social identities and class domination. The invisible hand of the market under capitalism is commonly understood to throw up efficient solutions in terms of employment outcomes and resource allocations – and this is what would give rise to the wealth of nations. In reality however, certain social groups continue to find themselves at the lowest rungs of the economy and society, while the miniscule minority keeps expanding it’s share and retains power, often globally. The course will explore how capitalism often employs pre-existing fissures to retain profit shares and power. Capitalism, in short, is not blind to the hitherto existing practices of discrimination be it race, patriarchy, caste or religion. The course would analyse the global processes which lead to such debilitating overlaps between class domination and social inequalities.

Course Outcomes:

  1. To show how the history of global capitalism exhibits a recurring overlap between social identities and class domination.
  2. To demonstrate the processes through which certain social groups continue to find themselves at the lowest rungs of the economy and society, while the miniscule minority keeps expanding it’s share and retains power, often globally.
  3. To help students communicate effectively, through speaking and writing, about ideas and concepts relating to the workings of global capitalism and the cumulative production of inequalities.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  1. Wealth: The unit looks into the earlier sources of wealth creation and trace it to contemporary times. It will introduce students to processes of wealth creation and the cumulative nature of the existence of inequalities. It delves into the interlinkages between wealth, inequality and capitalist accumulation while drawing upon previous forms of wealth creation and earlier forms of inequities.
  2. Modes of exploitation, Inequalities and persistence: The economic system under capitalism is generally considered as a progression over earlier forms in so much as the identity of the oppressed would not be important for capitalist accumulation. Thus this unit will analyse one of the defining characteristics of capitalism over pre-capitalist forms - that of producing free wage labour as a progression over unfree labour relations. In the context of widespread histories of discriminatory labour practices under capitalism, the relevance of the concept of free wage labour will be examined. This unit will help in understanding why modes of exploitation are central to uncovering discriminatory outcomes and also analyse the reasons for its persistence in contemporary times.
  3. Primitive Accumulation and Criminality: This unit will deal in detail with the seamless/linear theories of transformation from feudalism to capitalism. The focus will be to uncover how primitiveness plays an important role in the evolution of capitalism. This would evolve an alternative understanding of the history of capitalism with regards to primitive/backward groups and their role in the broader cycle of accumulation. The method of political economy would help uncover the overlap between criminality and capitalist processes of exclusion.
  4. Patriarchy, Accumulation & Consumption: How does patriarchy shape patterns of accumulation over different modes of production? Can patriarchy be thought of as a mode of production? What role does consumption play the in sexual division of labour in contemporary capitalism? This unit maps the evolution of analysis which locates patriarchal relations of production and consumption which lie at the core of capitalist accumulation in contemporary times.
  5. Occupational segregation and Graded Inequality: How does division of labour become division of labourers or vice versa? What is graded inequality? How is it operationalized? Why is it invisible? This unit will cover the working of the market under capitalism and analyse how discriminatory outcomes occur.
  6. Race, Efficiency and Distribution: This unit looks at the impact of race/caste discrimination on market outcomes, especially issues pertaining to economic efficiency and distribution of wealth and persistence of inequalities.

Assessment Details with weights:

  1. Monthly Assessment (3X10% = 30%): Open book written assessment based on Units covered in a month.
  2. Project (30%): term paper on a topic/theme of students’ interest
  3. Final examination (40%): essay-based final exam based on full semester syllabus

Reading List:

Essential readings:

  1. Killewald, Alexandra, Fabian T. Pfeffer, and Jared N. Schachner. (2017) “Wealth Inequality and Accumulation”. Annual Review of Sociology 43:379-404.
  2. Piketty, Thomas, and Gabriel Zucman. (2014) “Capital Is Back: Wealth-Income Ratios in Rich Countries 1700–2010.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 129 (3): 1255–1310.
  3. AcemogluD,RobinsonJA. (2015)”The rise and decline of general laws of capitalism.” J.Econ.Perspect.29(1):3–28
  4. Bhaduri, A. and J. Robinson (1980) ‘Accumulation and Exploitation: an Analysis in the Tradition of Marx, Sraffa and Kalecki’ in Cambridge Journal of Economics, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp 103-115
  5. Kuznets, Simon (1955), ‘Economic Growth and Income Inequality’, American Economic Review, 45 (1), pp. 1–28.
  6. Piketty, Thomas (2015a), ‘About Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, American Economic Review, 105 (5), pp. 48–53.
  7. Brass, T., and M. van der Linden. (1997) Introduction in Free and Unfree Labour: the Debate Continues. Peter Lang, Bern, Switzerland; New York
  8. Miles, R. (1987) Introduction in Capitalism and Unfree Labour, Anomaly or Necessity?, Tavistock Publications, London
  9. Breman, J. (2007) Introduction in Labour Bondage in West India, From Past to Present, Oxford University Press, New Delhi
  10. Tilly, C. (1998), ‘Modes of Exploitation’ in ‘Durable Inequality’, University of California Press
  11. Cohen, G. A. (1985) ‘Are Workers Forced to Sell Their Labor Power?’ in Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Winter), pp 99-105 6.
  12. Folbre, N. and J. A. Nelson (2000) ‘For Love or Money—or Both?’ in Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 14, No. 4, pp 123-140
  13. Mosse, D., (2007), ‘Power and the Durability of Poverty: A Critical Exploration of the Links between Culture, Marginality and Chronic Poverty’, Chronic Poverty Research Centre, London
  14. de Haan, A., (2011), 'Rescuing Exclusion from the Poverty Debate: Group Disparities and Social Transformation in India', Working Paper No. 517, IISS, The Hague
  15. Chancel, L. et al. (2017). Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj? 1-50.
  16. Sen, Amartya (1992), Introduction in Inequality Reexamined, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  17. Linebaugh, P. (1976), ‘Karl Marx, The Theft of Wood, and Working Class Composition: A Contribution to the Current Debate’, in Crime & Social Justice, Vol. 6, pp. 5-16.
  18. Marx, K. (1867), The Secret of Primitive Accumulation, Chapter 26, Capital Vol. 1
  19. Perelman, M. (2000), Introduction inThe Invention of Capitalism: The Secret History of Primitive Accumulation, Duke University Press.
  20. Pager, D. (2003), ‘The Mark of a Criminal Record’ in American Journal of Sociology Volume 108, Number 5, pp. 937–75
  21. Radhakrishna, M. (2000), ‘Colonial Construction of a 'Criminal' Tribe: Yerukulas of Madras Presidency’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 35, No. 28/29 (Jul. 15-21), pp. 2553-2563
  22. Chang ML. 2010. Introduction in Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done about It. New York: Oxford Univ. Press
  23. Luxemburg, R. (1913),The Historical Conditions of Accumulation in Section Three of The Accumulation of Capital; Edited by Dr. W. Stark, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1951.
  24. Mies, M. (2007),Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale-revisited (Keynote lecture at the Green Economics Institute, Reading, 29 October 2005) published in International Journal of Green Economics, Vol 1, Nos. 3/4.
  25. De Grazia, V. & Furlough, E. (1996) Introduction in The sex of things: Gender and consumption in historical perspective, University of California Press.
  26. Federici, S. (2004), The Accumulation of Labour and the Degradation of Women: Constructing “Difference” in the “Transition to Capitalism” in Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body and Primitive Accumulation. New York: Autonomedia Publishers.
  27. Ambedkar, B. R. (1916). 'Caste in India': The Mechanism, Genesis and Development. In B. R. Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste. Jullander: Bheema Patrika Publication.
  28. Thorat, S. and K. S. Newman (2007) ‘Caste and Economic Discrimination: Causes, Consequences and Remedies’ in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 42, No. 41, pp 4121-4124
  29. Deshpande, A. (2011), Chapter 2, The Grammar of Caste: Economic Discrimination in Contemporary India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.
  30. Olson, P. (1990), ‘The Persistence of Occupational Segregation: A Critique of Its Theoretical Underpinnings’in Journal of Economic Issues,Vol. 24, No. 1, pp. 161-171
  31. Madheswaran, S. and P. Attewell (2007) ‘Caste Discrimination in the Indian Urban Labour Market: Evidence from the National Sample Survey’ in Economic and Political Weekly Vol. 42, No. 41, pp 4146-4154
  32. Bertrand, M., R. Hanna, and S. Mullainathan (2003) ‘Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? : A field experiment on labour market discrimination, NBER Working paper 9873.
  33. Conley D. 1999. Being Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth, and Social Policy in America. Berkeley: Univ. Calif. Press
  34. Wolpe, H. (1972), ‘Capitalism and Cheap Labour-Power in SA: From Segregation to Apartheid’, Economy and Society, 1, 425-456.
  35. Wright, E. O. (1978) ‘Race, Class, and Income Inequality’ in American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 83, No. 6, pp 1368-1397
  36. Cousins, B., Walker, C. (Eds.), (2015), Land Divided, Land Restored : Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st Century. Jacana, Johannesburg, South Africa

Supplementary readings:

  1. Smith, Adam (1776), The Wealth of Nations, edited W.B. Todd, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976.
  2. Veblen, Thorstein (1899), The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions, reprinted with a foreword by Stuart Chase, New York: Random House, 1934.
  3. Walras, Léon (1874), from Eléments d’économie politique; ou théorie de la richesse sociale, Paris: R. Pichon et R. Durand-Auzias, translated by W. Jaffé as Elements of Pure Economics, New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1954, 1977.
  4. Sismondi, J.C.L. Simonde de (1824), ‘On the Basis of Consumption and Production’, translated by Elizabeth Henderson, International Economic Papers, 7, 1957, pp. 20–39.
  5. Mill, John Stuart (1848), Principles of Political Economy with Some of their Applications to Social Philosophy, in J.M. Robson (ed.), Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volumes II and III, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 196
  6. Marx, K. (1970), Capital Vol. 1: A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, (1970)
  7. Mies, M (1998) Patriarchy and Capitalist Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour, Zed Books Limited, London and New York
  8. Ambedkar, B.R. (1936) Annihilation of Caste, Critical Quest, New Delhi
  9. Phule, J. (2002), Selected Writings,Leftword Books, New Delhi
  10. Mohanty, M. (ed.) (2004), Class, Caste, Gender, Sage Publications, New Delhi
  11. Miles, R. (1987) Capitalism and UnfreeLabour, Anomaly or Necessity?,Tavistock Publications, London
  12. Patnaik, U. and M. Dingwaney (1985) Chains of Servitude: Bondage and Slavery in India, Sangam Books, Madras
  13. Dirks, N. B. (2001) Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India, Permanent Black, New Delhi
  14. Doniger, W. and B. K. Smith (1991) The Laws of Manu, Penguin Books, New Delhi
  15. Dumont, L. (1972) Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications, Paladin Publishers, London
  16. Gupta, D. (ed.) (1991), Social Stratification, Oxford University Press, New Delhi