History of economic thought application paper

Social Inequality

One hundred years ago, Henry George’s Progress and Poverty was more widely read than any other work on economics, including Marx’s Capital (Smiley pp). Both George and Marx proposed radical solutions to the general problem of achieving economic growth with social equity (Smiley pp). Marxism conquered half of the world and left a heavy imprint on the other half, while Georgism exists today mainly in the history of economic thought and to a limited degree still affects local government revenue practices (Smiley pp). Some economists regarded land rent as ethically and economically quite different from profit and interest in that rent was socially, not privately created (Smiley pp). George argued that land monopoly was the main cause of poverty, however, his remedy was the collection of land rent by government as revenue which left private property right intact (Smiley pp). Yet, during the last century, both neoclassical and neo-Marxist practice have, to a large extent, departed from the classical political economy three-factor model of land, labor and capital, and used two-factor models that aggregate land with capital and rent with profit (Smiley pp).

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By the end of World War II, neoclassical economics related economic progress principally to population, savings and capital efficiency (Smiley pp). The Harrod-Domar model was its engine, and the Marshall Plan its vindication (Smiley pp). There was no radical analysis of poverty, and it was believed that benefits from economic growth would trickle down to the poor (Smiley pp). Although during the past fifty years, these neoclassical development models have been applied to the Third World, success has been far less than that of the Marshall Plan (Smiley pp). An exception is that those economies that removed or never had the institutional constraints of concentrated land ownership, prospered (Smiley pp).

Richard L. Harris examines the “Capital, inequality and injustice in Latin America” in the June 1997 issue of International Journal of Comparative Sociology (Harris pp). The article examines contemporary economic, political and social conditions in Latin America, using a combination of three key analytical concepts, capital, inequality and injustice, to provide an integrated and global conceptualization of the predominant social structures, processes and relations in the societies of the region (Harris pp). The application of these concepts reveals the fundamental social relations of contemporary capitalism that are primarily responsible for the pronounced extent of inequality and injustice that characterize these societies (Harris pp).

More than twenty years ago, Latin American social scientists, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Enzo Faletto, produced what has became a classic analysis of the economic, political and social development of Latin America (Harris pp). In the preface to the English edition of this much-acclaimed book, they stated the fundamental basis of their perspective as follows:

We seek a global and dynamic understanding of social structures instead of looking only at specific dimensions of the social process. We oppose the academic tradition which conceived of domination and sociocultural relations as dimensions,’ analytically independent of one another, and together independent of the economy, as if each one of these dimensions corresponded to separate spheres of reality. In that sense, we stress the sociopolitical nature of the economic relations of production, thus following the nineteenth century tradition of treating economy as political economy.

This methodological approach, which found its highest expression in Marx, assumes the hierarchy that exists in society is the result of established ways of organizing the production of material and spiritual life” (Harris pp).

Harris claims that there is barely any evidence that the region consists of “postmodern societies” or that it has moved into a “postmodern era,” however, most of the problems and issues addressed by the so-called obsolete meta-theories persist in contemporary Latin American (Harris pp). Many of the region’s inhabitants live under conditions that can be described as “uneven modernity” rather than post-modernity (Harris pp). The complex social reality of Latin America is best thought of as a complex hybrid of “pre-modern,” “modern,” and “post-modern” ideologies, practices, and conditions (Harris pp).

The globalization or increasing integration of the region into the global capitalist system has not propelled the people into a new era of post-modernity, as many of the old problems and issues continue to be contemporary problems and issues (Harris pp). In fact, claims Harris, the contemporary effects of globalization, or rather the expansion of “post-modern” or “late” capitalism, have aggravated the most chronic problems of the Latin American regions (Harris pp).

These problems include the pronounced degree of economic exploitation, social and economic inequality, and social and political injustice that have characterized the region since the first indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere were subjugated, by force, to European colonial domination during the sixteenth century (Harris pp).

It is not possible to explain the degree of extreme inequality that has existed for centuries between the privileged minorities and the impoverished majority of the region from a post-modernist perspective (Harris pp). Yet, when viewed from a global perspective and through the conceptual lens provided by the three concepts, capital, inequality and injustice, it is clear that the nature of the region’s contemporary integration into the global capitalist economy has reinforced, and even accentuated, this extreme inequality as well as the unjust relations of subordination and domination that maintain and complement this inequality (Harris pp).

It is worth noting the justification that Cardoso and Faletto gave “for their use of the concept of capital in their analysis of Latin America’s social, economic, and political development,” arguing that the concept was necessary because they needed a concept that was “able to explain trends of change and opposing forces” (Harris pp). Moreover, they argued that “it was necessary to relate these forces in a global way, characterizing the basic sources of their existence, continuity and change, by determining forms of domination and the forces opposed to them” (Harris pp). And lastly, they believed that “without the concept of capital as the result of the exploitation of one class by another,” it is impossible to explain the movement of capitalist society (Harris pp).

Catherine MacKinnon notes that this theoretical tradition confronts organized social dominance and analyzes it in dynamic rather than static terms (Harris pp). Moreover, it identifies social forces, that shape social imperatives, and attempts to explain human freedom within, as well as, against history (Harris pp). It offers a critique of the inevitability of social injustice and a theory of the necessity of change (Harris pp).

Inequality and injustice have similar conceptual and analytical properties as the concept of capital, in that they facilitate a critical analysis of the dynamic relations, structures and processes that underlie the contemporary conditions of human existence in Latin America (Harris pp). Applied to the analysis of social reality in the region, the concept of inequality focuses attention on the “unequal access to power, to resources, and to a humane existence” that prevails in the societies (Harris pp). Therefore, at the micro-level, this concept can be applied to the inequality between men and women within the family unit, at the midlevel it encompasses the unequal access of different categories of the population to the basic necessities of human existence (Harris pp). And at the macro-or global level, the concept encompasses phenomena such as the unequal economic relations between the region’s economies and that of the United States (Harris pp). In fact, due to the fact that the social, economic, and political disparities are so ubiquitous and extreme in Latin America, it is possible to argue that inequality should be the main “explanandum (i.e., focus of explanation)” of any intellectual effort that seeks to explain the historical development and contemporary conditions of the region’s societies (Harris pp).

Based on technological invention, capitalism has become the basic world order for producing an economic surplus, and as the world’s population increases, more people are being brought into the orbit of capitalism (Capitalism pp). In fact, “there is no significant area of the earth’s surface in which people are immune from the output of technological invention brought to them through capitalism (Capitalism pp). However, what capitalism is in one country, it is not in another (Capitalism pp).

The ability of private individuals to control capital and use it as the laws of capitalism dictate, has been severely circumscribed, mainly due to wars (Capitalism pp). Wars place pressure on industrial production, transportation and communication facilities for optimum operation “that those organized around ownership and management by private individuals or families find it difficult to meet” (Capitalism pp).

One example of the effect of war on a country is Korea, which was demolished by war, had virtually no experience in manufacturing, and eventually became an industrial giant because of government intervention (Capitalism pp).

Having been a Japanese colony from 1910 to 1945, the Korean War left its physical property devastated, and then in 1961, the Korean government became involved in planning the allocation of resources, resulting in a series of five-year plans that directed economic growth through export-oriented industrialization (Capitalism pp). Then as each set of goals was achieved, the government used its resources and control to push economic enterprise towards more sophisticated goals (Capitalism pp).

While war is often a major factor in changing the nature of property ownership, much as major depressions, such as that of 1920 to 1940, another factor can be large increases in competition, such as that in industrial production that has risen in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan since the Vietnam War (Capitalism pp). All such developments “put stresses on the ability of individuals to finance and mange their operations (Capitalism pp).

Relationships between capitalistic economic enterprise and government are different in different countries (Capitalism pp). While the United States was trying to limit the size of industrial organizations in an effort to encourage competition, Germany was encouraging combination (Capitalism pp). The French government seized control of all means of communication and kept it (Capitalism pp). Today, the Japanese government maintains close relations with large corporations, “helping to set priorities in production and development, and in deciding who gets to borrow large amounts of money” (Capitalism pp). Whatever the nation, capitalistic economic endeavor is “dependent upon the government for the performance of certain activities, and government is dependent upon the economic function to finance the services which citizens have come to expect” (Capitalism pp).

Works Cited

Capitalism as a Social System. Retrieved July 30, 2005 at http://www.gwu.edu/~edpol/manuscript/Chap2-3.htm

Harris, Richard L. (1997 June 01). Capital, inequality and injustice in Latin

America. International Journal of Comparative Sociology. Retrieved July 30, 2005 from HighBeam Research Library Web site.

Smiley, David H. (1995 October 01). Problems with development economics.

The American Journal of Economics and Sociology. Retrieved July 30, 2005 from HighBeam Research Library Web site.

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