BIS 412: Ideas in Political Economy
Spring Quarter, 2007
Monday and Wednesday,  1:15-3:20 PM   UW2-131

Colin Danby, University of Washington, Bothell
Office: UW1 245  (425) 352-5285    danby@u.washington.edu
Office Hours Monday and Wednesday 3:30-4:30, and by appointment

This is an advanced, 400-level course.  Most course readings are writings by Smith, Marx, Keynes, or Schumpeter (the Marx readings in English translation).  We proceed on the assumption that the best way to know what these people thought is to read what they wrote, and to discuss and write about it ourselves.

This course assumes that: you have already taken at least one class at the 300-level or above in which you have read advanced writings in social theory, political theory, or philosophy.  Some experience reading 18th- and 19th-century European prose is also desirable.  Please look carefully at the readings and the writing assignments, and talk with me, if you are in any doubt about your preparation for this course.

This course does not assume any background in the discipline of economics.  It is essentially a course in social theory, with a strong emphasis on philosophy.  It does not necessarily follow other courses in the IA&S program that use the term "political economy" in their titles -- for example it has relatively little to do with the material covered in BIS 324.

This course examines the work of four prominent theorists in the broad tradition of political economy: Adam Smith (1723-1790), Karl Marx (1818-1883), John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), and Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950). Its goals are to make you familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of their contributions to social science, and to provide an understanding of the project of social analysis that they shared.

Political Economy is an intellectual tradition that has influenced all of the contemporary social sciences, and parts of the humanities.  Its most direct modern descendant is the discipline of economics, but what is typically taught today as "economics" is much narrower.  The common thread in political economy is a concern with the questions of growth and distribution: what explains changes in the amount of goods and services that a nation produces over time, and what explains the distribution of those goods and services to different people. As we will see, political economy brings to bear a much broader range of tools and intellectual resources than does contemporary mainstream economics.  All four of the people we will read were broadly educated, and wrote across disciplinary boundaries.

We will read extensively from the works of each of the four political economists, in order to understand their contributions to social theory and to place those contributions in the context of their overall visions of how human societies work.  The course will be conducted for the most part in seminar style, with discussion.


  • Completing short assignments: 15 percent
  • Participation and critical presentation: 20 percent.
  • Three short (1000 word) essays: 40 percent
  • One longer (3000-4000 word) essay examining all four theorists: 25 percent

Short assignments receive full credit if they represent a reasonable effort to complete the assignment.  Participation is assessed on both quality and quantity, but if you are going to be participate well you should plan on attending classes and arriving on time both at the beginning of class and after break. 


For the “critical presentation,” I ask you to choose one class day (we’ll do a signup sheet) and prepare about ten minutes of remarks for the start of class in which you present some critical questions about that day’s readings.  The purpose is not to summarize the readings, but rather to help set up discussion about them.  I can give you more guidance: this is not intended to be a major assignment, just a way to begin some of the class sessions with another voice.

It is expected that you will do all reading before the class for which it is assigned, think about it, and participate in discussions.  Strong participants are prepared, engaged, and ask questions.  You should come prepared to read out your work on short assignments to the class.  There may be various short in-class writing assignments, done individually or in groups, which may be collected to help assess participation.

The three short essays will be assessed on the clarity with which they grasp an important aspect of the author’s argument, and on their ability to offer a critique of that argument. The long essay will be assessed on its ability to bring the views of all four authors into focus on one issue, and its insight into why they agree or disagree.  Essays need to be clear on what authors thought, and show an ability to think critically about that thought.  The first three essays can be rewritten and resubmitted, within a week after they are returned to you, for a higher grade. (If you do this, provide the previous, graded draft along with the new version).  In the case of the final, longer essay, I will be willing to read and critique any drafts submitted to me by June 1. 

The essays are meant to draw on the assigned reading only, and will not require any research. If you want to draw on other sources you may, as long as you provide a list of references and footnote them carefully (including page numbers).  Noteworthy outside sources include the Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, in the library, and the excellent History of Economic Thought Website. Robert Heilbroner's book The Worldly Philosophers is a readable introduction to the whole tradition of political economy, and has nice chapters on our first three authors.  It is available in the library and in every used bookstore in the world.  A site that may be of interest to some is the History of Economics Society; it has an electronic discussion list with a searchable archive which will give you an idea of how specialists in the field discuss some of the topics examined in this class.

Late work: The three essay assignments will be subject to my normal late-paper policy, which is that late submissions will be penalized 15% (of the total possible grade) up to the first week they are late; 30% thereafter.  They will not be accepted after the last day of class meetings (May 30).  Short assignments will not be accepted late.  It's your responsibility to organize your life so work gets done on time, reliably.  There are no exceptions to the late-work policy -- there simply is no way that I can fairly assess the  personal emergencies, job pressures, and other factors that impinge on different people's lives, and adjust their assignments accordingly.  Please do not try to show me doctors' notes, court orders, or anything like that.  There is however one appeal: if you feel that for any reason, part of your grade does not reflect your learning in the course, write me a short e-mail explaining why, and I will take that into account  when assessing the final grade.

All assignments are due in class.  The normal and most secure means of submitting work is on paper, delivered into my hands in the class when the assignment is due.  I am also willing to accept work in e-mailed messages or as e-mailed attachments, but you send things this way at your own risk: I cannot take responsibility for server errors or for any of the other things that might go wrong between your effort to send a file and my ability to print the thing out.  If you are going to e-mail me assignments please consult these additional notes on sending things electronically.  Assignments will be considered late if they are turned in on paper, or arrive electronically, after the end of the class period in which they are due.

Grades assess the quality of the work submitted.  They are not assessments of your personal qualities, or measures of effort.  To emphasize this I will ask that essays be submitted anonymously, using your student number only.

Here are some notes on formats for written work.

There is no reason to tell me if you are going to miss class.  However if a serious illness or personal emergency is going to affect course work over a week or more, please tell me so we can plan  how to get you back on track as quickly as possible.  For a few other points see Occasionally-Asked Questions

Our scheduled classes are times for work.  Focusing on the task at hand is important for your own learning; it also makes you a better participant in small-group discussions and other activities that will help others learn.  It is therefore expected that you will use class time for class work, and that you will not distract others from class work.  This means, for example, avoiding private conversations, turning off cell phones, and if you must arrive late, walking in as quietly as possible.  It is my responsibility, and prerogative, to determine what is appropriate classroom behavior.  Arriving on time is a mark of respect for the class and for other participants; so is arriving promptly back from break.  Breaks are a privilege; breaks in this class are five minutes. 

In order to reduce distractions I would like to conduct this as a laptop-free class.  You should always bring in the day’s reading with you.

To request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Student Services in the Counseling Center, Room 145, (425) 352-5307, (425) 352-5303 (TDD).  If you have a documented disability on file with the DSS office, please have your DSS counselor contact me.

You are reading a web document.  It can normally be located by putting "danby" into the faculty directory accessible via the main uwb page, or by putting "colin danby" into a search engine like google, or by going through http://www.bothell.washington.edu/faculty/danby/.   Changes in readings or assignments will be made on the web version, as well as being announced in class.  If you miss classes you need to check for any modifications to assignments.

I find contact with students outside of class extremely useful in improving what I do in the classroom, and I encourage you to see the regular class time as only part of the service provided to you in this course. Please feel no hesitation about contacting me outside of class, about using the scheduled office hours, and about setting up meetings at other times. Aside from visiting during the scheduled office hours or chatting after class, the best way to get in touch is e-mail.  I don't use the voice mail system.

You have a UW e-mail address, which I may use to communicate with you.  You should consult the mailbox regularly, and if you have another primary e-mail address, set your UW mailbox to forward to that primary address.

This course includes writing, and it is assumed that written work is your own, and that when another person’s ideas or words are used they are fully acknowledged. This is what the UWB catalog says:

"Plagiarism is the use of the creations, ideas or words of someone else without formally acknowledging the author or source through the use of quotation marks, references, and the like. Plagiarizing is stealing someone’s work and presenting it as one’s own work or thought. Student work in which plagiarism occurs will ordinarily not be accepted as satisfactory by the instructor, and may lead to disciplinary action against the student submitting it. Any student who is uncertain whether his or her use of the work of others constitutes plagiarism should consult the course instructor for guidance before formally submitting the course work involved."

You must use quotation marks and references whenever you use someone else's writing, whether you use their words or just their ideas.  Mere paraphrase does not exempt you from this requirement.  Please see these additional notes on plagiarism.  Plagiarism has been an occasional problem in this course on the past.

Texts (available in bookstore; copies are also on reserve in the library):

  • Heilbroner, R.L. ed. 1986. The Essential Adam Smith. Norton.
  • Kamenka, E. ed. 1983. The Portable Karl Marx. Penguin.
  • Keynes, J.M. 1963 (1932). Essays in Persuasion. Norton.
  • Schumpeter, J. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. Harper.

You will need a good dictionary I recommend the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.  (The name "Webster," by itself, is meaningless because it’s not copyrighted.)  Other good dictionaries are the American Heritage Dictionary and Oxford American Dictionary.

Other readings will be available via electronic reserve.  I have put direct links to those readings into the schedule below.  Usually, those links work.  If for any reason they do not work for you, go through the library's web page.

Schedule of Topics, Readings, and Assignments (subject to adjustment)

 Monday, March 26

External links that might be useful: Smith online archive    Kilcullen's Notes on Smith


March 28

Theory of Moral Sentiments, 65-100 (but skim 78-88) in the Heilbroner, ed., reader.  Guide

First (very) short assignment

Monday, April 2

Jerry Muller, "Self-Love and Self-Command"  
Theory of Moral Sentiments, 100-147 and Wealth of Nations: 159-161 in Heilbroner   Guide

Second short assignment

Wednesday, April 4

Wealth of Nations, 161-194 in Heilbroner  Guide


Monday, April 9

Wealth of Nations, 194-269 in Heilbroner Guide

Third short assignment

 Wednesday, April 11

External links that might be useful: Marx online archive

First essay, on Smith, due

Monday, April 16

Capital, Chapters 26, 27, 31-33,  pages 461-503 in Kamenka, ed. Guide

First short assignment 

Wednesday, April 18

Value, Price, and Profit, 394-432 in Kamenka Guide


Monday, April 23

Economico-Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, 131-152 in Kamenka Guide
Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 158-161 in Kamenka  Note

Second short assignment

Wednesday, April 25

Manifesto of the Communist Party, pages 203-241 in Kamenka


 Monday, April 30


Second Essay, on Marx, due

Wednesday, May 2

"Paris" 3-6 in Essays in Persuasion Note
Original first part of "The End of Laissez-Faire"   Guide
"The End of Laissez-Faire" 312-322 in Essays Guide
Robert Skidelsky, "Keynes's Philosophy of Practice"

First short assignment

Monday, May 7

"A Short View of Russia" 297-311 in Essays Guide
"Am I a Liberal?" 323-338 in Essays Guide
"Inflation" 77-79 in Essays 
"Auri Sacra Fames," 181-185 in Essays Note

Second short assignment

Wednesday, May 9

"Social Consequences of Changes in the Value of Money" 80-104 in Essays Guide
"Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren" (358-373) in Essays    Notes


  Monday, May 14


Third essay, on Keynes, due

Wednesday, May 16

Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, 1-58   Guide

First short assignment

Monday, May 21

Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, 59-110   Guide

Second short assignment

Wednesday, May 23

Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, 111-164   Guide


Monday May 28 is Memorial Day, a holiday

Wednesday, May 30

Albert Hirschman, "Rival Views of Market Society"

Third short assignment 

Wednesday, June 6

(no class)

Final essay due in my office by 6PM