Understanding capitalism

Academic year 2022/2023
Lecturer Mario Pianta

Integrative teaching


Examination procedure



Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Political Science and Sociology"

Optional for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students of the PhD Programme in "Transnational Governance"

Optional for the 4th and 5th year students of the MA Programme in "Political and Social Sciences"


Overview of the course

The course provides the conceptual and analytical tools for understanding the nature of the economic system and its dynamics at the world and national levels. Key concepts – addressed by classical texts - include capital, labour, markets, the role of the State, the macroeconomy, cycles of accumulation in the world economy. Current transformations include the emergence of the digital economy, the rise of East Asia and China in the world economy, novel labour and social conflicts. The trajectory of Neoliberal capitalism in the last forty years is addressed, exploring its relationships with markets, the State and political power.

Course format

Lectures will provide the basic concepts and analytical tools.

Students are asked to read the course material and participate in the discussion.


PhD and Master students taking the exam are asked to write a paper – of about 3,000 words - on a course topic. Topics may bridge the background and interests of students with the themes of the course. Exam papers should be highly focused, with a strong logical structure, and may address or combine theory, ideas, empirical evidence and policy issues. Master students can be allowed to write their paper in Italian.



Session N. 1 Capital, labour, production and markets

9.11.2022, h.15.30-18.30

Required readings

A. Smith, The wealth of nations, Penguins books, 1974, book I, ch.1-2., book II, ch.3

K. Marx, Capital, Penguin, 1993, vol.I, ch.1, 4


Session N. 2 The macroeconomy, markets and the State

10.11.2022, h. 14.00-17.00

Required readings

J.M. Keynes, The great depression of 1930, in Essays on persuasion, Macmillan, 1931

J.M. Keynes, The general theory of employment, interest and money, Macmillan 1967, ch. 18, 24

F. Hayek, The road to serfdom. London, London, Routledge, 1944 [1948].


Session N. 3 Technology and capitalism

16.11.2022, h. 15.30-18.30

Required readings

J.A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and democracy, Harper, 1942, ch.7

C. Freeman, F. Louca, As time goes by. From the Industrial Revolutions to the Information Revolution, Oxford University Press, 2002, Introduction to Part II, Chapter 9, Conclusions to Part II.

M. Pianta, Technology and work. Stylized facts for the digital age, in K. Zimmermann (ed.)

Handbook of Labor, Human Resources and Population Economics, Springer, 2019


Session N. 4 The world economy

17.11.2022, h. 14.00-17.00

Required readings

G. Arrighi, The long XX century. Money, power and the origins of our time, Verso, 2nd edn 2010, Introduction, ch.1, Epilogue


Session N. 5 Globalisation and the rise of China

23.11.2022, h. 15.30-18.30

Required readings

J. Stiglitz, Making globalization work, New York, Norton, Ch.1,2,10

G. Arrighi, Adam Smith in Beijing, Verso, 2007, ch.12


Session N. 6. Neoliberal capitalism

24.11.2022, h.14.00-17.00

Required readings

D. Harvey, A brief history of neoliberalism, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005, Introduction, Ch.1,3,6.

Colin Crouch, The strange non-death of neoliberalism, London, Wiley, 2011, Ch.1,2.


Session N. 7 Labour and social conflicts

30.11.2022, h.15.30-17.30

Required readings

B. Silver, Forces of Labor. Workers' Movements and Globalization Since 1870, Cambridge University Press, 2003, Introduction and Chapter 5.

D. della Porta, Social movements in times of austerity: bringing capitalism back into protest analysis, London, Wiley, 2015, Ch.1,2,6.

S. Hall, D. Massey, M. Rustin (eds) After neoliberalism? The Kilburn Manifesto, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 2015, Framing statement


Background text on economics include

The Core team, The economy. Economics for a changing world, Oxford University Press, 2017

free download at https://www.core-econ.org/project/core-the-economy/

Ha-Joon Chang, Economics: the user’s guide, Pelican, 2014

Bibliographical references