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Capitalism Essay

1150 words - 5 pages

Immanuel Wallerstein

This presentation is based on the theory of Immanuel Wallerstein as presented in books listed in the bibliography. A summary of this and other macro-social theories can be found in Macrosociology: Four Modern Theorists, by Frank W. Elwell.

Marx’s legacy in social theory does not lie in his predictions of future utopias but rather in his analyses of the workings and contradictions of capitalism. Within contemporary sociology this tradition is very much alive in world-systems analysis, a perspective developed by Immanuel Wallerstein in the 1970s.

According to Wallerstein, the modern nation state exists within a broad economic, political, and legal framework ...view middle of the document...

Unlike world-empires, the world-economies have no unified political system; nor is its dominance based on military power alone. However, like a world-empire, a world-economy is based on the extraction of surplus from outlying districts to those who rule at the center.

From the start, Wallerstein argues, capitalism has had a division of labor that encompassed several nation state. The capitalist worldsystem began in Europe in about 1500 and under the spur of the accumulation of capital, expanded over the next few centuries to cover the entire globe. In the process of this expansion the capitalist world system has absorbed small mini-systems, world-empires, as well as competing world-economies.

The capitalist world-economy was created by establishing long-distance trade in goods and linking production processes worldwide, all of which allowed the significant accumulation of capital in Europe.

But these economic relationships were not created in a vacuum. The modern nation state was created in Europe along with capitalism to serve and to protect the interests of the capitalists. What was in the interest of early European capitalists was the establishment of a world-economy based on an extremely unequal division of labor between European states and the rest of the system.

Also in the interest of early European capitalists was the establishment of strong European states that had the political and military power to enforce this inequality.

For Wallerstein, the capitalist world-economy is a mechanism of surplus appropriation that is both subtle and efficient. It relies upon the creation of surplus through constantly expanding productivity. It extracts this surplus for the benefit of the elite through the creation of profit.

The capitalist world-system is based on a twofold division of labor in which different classes and status groups are given differential access to resources within nation states, and the different nation states are given differential access to goods and services on the world market. Both types of markets, both those within and those between nation states, are very much distorted by power.

Wallerstein divides the capitalist world-economy into core states, semi-peripheral, and peripheral areas. The peripheral areas are the least developed; they are exploited by the core for their cheap labor, raw materials, and agricultural production.

The semi-peripheral areas are somewhat intermediate, being both exploited by the core and take some role in the exploitation of the peripheral areas. In the recent past they have been expanding their manufacturing activities particularly in products that core nations no longer find very profitable.

The core states are in geographically advantaged areas of the world—Europe and North America....

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