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CONTACT:  TELEPHONE:  202.806.4433; FAX: 202.483.2528;





This course begins with the study of ancient and medieval economic thought, and then traces its transformation through the periods of commercial capitalism and industrial capitalism into the classical school of political economy.  Karl Marx’s analysis of capitalism is then considered.  The emergence of marginalist (neo-classical) economics in the late 19th century is the next subject to be considered, followed by the rise of Keynesian economics in the twentieth century.  Further developments in, and critiques of, this school of thought round out the course.


Special attention is paid to modern African economic thought and to the special contribution of African-Americans to the debate over economic policy in the twentieth century.


Different economic theories often lead to radically different understandings of the world around us.  Knowing the economic theories which compete both as explanations of the way the world is and as tools for changing that world is an integral component of one's capacity to understand the world and play a role in its development.




The goals of the course are (1) that the student learn and remember the major bodies of economic thought; (2) that the application of these ideas becomes part of the student’s day-to-day thinking; and (3) that the student’s ability to write in an academic manner improves qualitatively.  To achieve these goals, the student must meet specific objectives (see III, below).





The objectives listed below are performance tasks at which the student should excel in order to demonstrate knowledge of the history of economic thought.  By referring frequently to the list of objectives during the course, the student will be able to assess the extent to which he/she is realizing the goals of the course.



Objective 1:  For each of the following economists (a) state the years they lived, (b) describe the type of economy in which they lived, (c) list and explain the major contributions of each of them to economic thought, and (d) discuss the extent to which their writing were scientific and to what extent their writings were apologetics or rationalizations for the interests of particular social classes, or both.  The list is:


Solon Adam Smith
Aristotle David Ricardo
St. Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Malthus

Thomas Mun Karl Marx
François Quesnay Alfred Marshall
V. I. Lenin Robert Weaver
John M. Keynes Samir Amin
Abram Harris Kwame Nkrumah
Oliver Cox Julius Nyerere


Objective 2:  List at least three socioeconomic formations which have existed in human history.  Explain the extent to which the economic ideas developed during the period of each formation reflected economic relations in those societies.


Objective 3:  List, describe, and compare and contrast the different versions of the labor theory of value.  Describe the utility theory of value.  Compare and contrast it to the labor theories of value.


Objective 4:  Describe the “marginal revolution”.  Explain how it led to a new form of economic theory.  Compare and contrast neoclassical to classical theory.


Objective 5:  Define imperialism.  Discuss two versions of this theory, explaining the theoretical differences in these views.


Objective 6:  Describe the role of African-American economists in the development of the economic debates in the U.S.  State the various positions and analyses advanced by them.


Objective 7:  Describe the theory, historical practice, and the varieties of African socialism.  Compare and contrast the varieties of African socialism, and compare and contrast them to neo-colonialism, imperialism, and neo-liberalism.




1.  Review study methods that you may have encountered during Freshman Orientation.

2.  Buy, read and study the textbook and selected readings.  Keep notes on the readings,          lectures, and discussions.

3.  Read the text and additional readings before class and prepare questions about them to ask during the discussion period in class.

4.  Attend class.

5.  Take careful notes.

6.  Study the notes immediately after class, as well as when preparing for examinations.

7.  Form study groups with each other and study notes on the readings and lectures together.

8.  Come to office hours or contact the professor via email when you need material clarified.

9.  Keep all deadlines, especially those associated with the stages of the research paper.




The final grades will be computed using the following formula:


Final                                                                              .2

Midterm Exams                                                              .2

Term Paper                                                                    .2

Journal Assignments                                                        .3

Other (Quizzes, attendance, class

participation, exceptionally

strong papers, progress

during the semester, etc.)                                   .1




There will be two in-class examinations, as noted on the schedule.  In-class examinations and the final examination will include short answer and essay questions, and may include problems.  Approximately one class period before each exam, a study guide will be distributed.


A description of the three types of journal assignments follows.




There are three kinds of journal assignments:  Weekly Thought Evaluations, Summary and Comment Papers, and Formal Journal Entries.


Weekly Thought Evaluations (WTEs).  Each week, the instructor will ask for a 3-5 page typewritten paper on the current week’s topic.  This is an example of “writing to learn”.  The content of the paper will respond to the topic by including a summary of the relevant chapter and/or readings and an application of that chapter’s material to the topic.

Each WTE assignment is graded pass/fail.  The WTE portion of the grade is calculated according to the following list:

A - 10 passing WTE assignments

B -  8 passing WTE assignments

C -  6 passing WTE assignments

D -  4 passing WTE assignments


Truly outstanding WTE assignments will receive a "high pass."  High pass grades and extra WTE assignments (over 10) will give the student extra credit in the "Other" category. 


Summary and Comment Papers (S&Cs).  This part of the assignment provides the student with an opportunity to grapple with alternative schools of economic thought as they relate to current issues.  The two major such contending schools of thought are (1) the classical/neo-classical school (often called the traditional, or orthodox school), which dominates most economic commentary today, and (2) the Marxist school.  Accordingly, the student will read two newspapers each week, each one reflecting one of these schools.  The student will then select one article from each newspaper that has some aspect of economic thought embodied in it, and write a summary of the article, followed by a comment.  The student is therefore “writing to learn” as he/she completes these assignments. The summary should demonstrate merely that the student understood the article as written, without any evaluation or opinion whatsoever; the comment should then his/her reflection on the article’s content.  The paper should follow the format on the attached sample exactly, including section headings.  S&Cs must be typed, double-spaced, stapled together, and submitted each week.  The S&C for each article shall be 1-2 typewritten pages; each S&C assignment is therefore 2-4 typewritten pages.  The student’ name, the course name, and the date must appear on the upper right hand corner of the first page of the assignment.  The S&Cs shall be placed in a loose-leaf journal binder after the professor returns them.  The papers must be typed (or printed by a computer printer). If the student cannot type, he/she should immediately make arrangements to have someone type them to avoid getting behind in the course work.  It is recommended that the student use the Washington Post for the classical/neoclassical school of thought, and Challenge-Desafio for the Marxist school of thought.


Each S&C assignment is graded pass/fail.  The S&C portion of the grade is calculated according to the following list:

A - 10 passing S&C assignments (20 articles)

B -  8 passing S&C assignments  (16 articles)

C -  6 passing S&C assignments  (12 articles)

D -  4 passing S&C assignments  ( 8 articles)


Truly outstanding S&Cs will receive a "high pass."  High pass grades and extra S&C assignments (over 10) will give the student extra credit in the "Other" category.  Only one (1) S&C assignment may be turned in each week.


Formal Journal Entries (FJEs).  FJEs are, likewise, instances of “writing to learn”.  The writing should help you clarify your thoughts about the course and its content.  Please use a bound composition book for this assignment (not a loose-leaf notebook).  An FJE must be made following each class period.  Additional entries may be made at any time to reflect your insights about the readings, discussions, conferences, study group dynamics, or any other aspect of the course.   The FJEs may take a diary format, but should include more content than a typical diary.  The FJEs should reflect your assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of class presentations, class discussions, and other in-class activities, as well as clear assessments of what you feel you do and do not understand about the subject matter covered in the lectures and readings.  The student and professor shall work together to be sure that the student’s comments are full, thoughtful, and to the point.  Journals will be collected periodically during the course, so you should bring yours with you to each class.  You will receive an A for outstanding entries, a B for adequate ones, and an F for unsatisfactory ones for the semester as a whole.  This grade will be averaged with your WTE and S&C grades to yield the Journal Grade.



   I.  Ancient and Medieval Economic Thought                                                  

  II.  Mercantilism:  The Economics of Commercial Capitalism              

III.  Physiocracy:  The Search for Economic Theory Begins     

 IV.  Early and Classical Political Economy:                  

Adam Smith and his Predecessors                                

  V.  Developments in Classical Political Economy:                               

Thomas Malthus and David Ricardo                                         

 VI.  The Critique of Political Economy:  Karl Marx                  

VII. The Theory of Imperialism:  Hobson & Lenin                                

VIII. The Marginal Reaction: Bohm-Bawerk

  IX.  The “Marginal Revolution”:  Walras, Jevons, Marshall

   X.  John M. Keynes and the Theory of Macroeconomic

Equilibrium and Employment    

  XI.  African Socialism and Its Critics

 XII.  African-American Contributions to 20th Century


XIII.  Economic Schools of Thought Today: Whither Economics?




There are three required items to purchase or acquire.  They are:


1.         Robert Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers 6th edition, NY:  Simon and Schuster,   Inc., 1987. (Heilbroner)  (Copies may also be available in the library)

2.         E.K. Hunt, The History of Economics Analysis:  A Critical Perspective, Updated 2nd ed.,   Armonk, NY:             M.E. Sharpe, 2002.  (Hunt)

3.   Thomas D. Boston, A Different Vision: African American      Economic Thought, Volume   One, New York: Routledge, 1997


Note:  Heilbroner and Hunt have been ordered through the Howard University bookstore, although students are likely to find copies of Heilbroner in the library.  Boston will be used later in the course. Additional items will be assigned as the course proceeds.


I.          Ancient and Medieval Economic Thought

Hunt, 1

II.        Mercantilism

Hunt, 1, 2.

III.       Physiocracy

Hunt, 2.


IV.       Early and Classical Political Economy

Hunt, 2, 3; Heilbroner, 3

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, excerpts

V.        Classical Political Economy:  Further Developments

Heilbroner, 5 & 6; Hunt, 4, 5, 6, & 7

VI.  The Critique of Classical Political Economy

Heilbroner 5 & 6

Hunt, 9 & 10

Robert Heilbroner, Marxism:  For and Against,  NY:  Simon and Schuster, 1985.

VII.  Imperialism

Hunt, 13, 14, & 19

VIII, IX.  Marginalist Economics

Heilbroner, 7

Hunt, 11, 12, 15, 17, & 18

X.  The Keynesian Revolution

Heilbroner, 9

Hunt, 16

XI.  African Socialism

A.M. Babu, African Socialism or Socialist Africa?  London, Zed Press, 1981

Nkrumah, Kwame, Neo-Colonialism:  The Last Stage of Imperialism.

Nyerere, Julius, Essays on Socialism

Amin, Samir, The Law of Value and Historical Materialism

Amin, Samir, Eurocentrism.  Monthly Review Press.

XII.  African Americans and Economics

William Darity, Jr., ed., Race, Radicalism, and Reform:  Selected Papers of Abram Harris.        New Brunswick, NJ:  Transaction Publishers, 1988 (espec. the introduction by Darity)

Thomas D. Boston, ed., A Different Vision: African American Economic Thought, Volume One, Articles 9-16 (pp. 157-301).

XIII.  Whither Economics?





The term paper is to be a substantial work involving extensive research.  The final paper should be between 15 and 25 pages, typed, double-spaced, 1 inch margins, standard 12-point font, with proper referencing and footnotes, and filled with creative understanding of economic analysis.


The topic is your choice within the very broad range of the following areas:


I.          “Globalization” has become a major buzzword in discussions of the world economy.  Different schools of economic thought interpret this phenomenon differently.  Analyze globalization from at least two different theoretical standpoints, being sure to contrast the theories themselves, as well as their implications for analyzing the outcomes of the globalization process.


II.         Describe an important contribution to the history of economic thought associated with (an) economic theorist(s) of color, comparing and contrasting it to the appropriate part of the canon of economic thought or theory.


Examples of specific topics could be:


What is African socialism, and how does it differ theoretically from free-market capitalism, welfare-state capitalism, utopian socialism, scientific socialism, and communism?


What contribution did Abram Harris (or another economist of color) make to the economic analysis of U.S. society?


Others include: W.E.B. DuBois, Oliver Cox, Booker T. Washington, George Haynes, Robert Weaver, Frank Davis, C. L. R. James, Walter Rodney, Samir Amin, Emmanuel Arghiri, Raul Prebisch, Andrew Brimmer, and William Darity, Jr.


III.       Discuss a modern development of Marxian economics, primarily at the theoretical level.


Examples of specific topics could be:


How do Marx's "laws of motions" of capitalism relate to Lenin's views on imperialism?


Compare and contrast three views on imperialism.


Compare three views on the post-capitalist society.  (These could include the Leninist 2-stage view, the anarchist view, the PLP view, or others).







1.  Topic paper:  Select a topic, and prepare a detailed outline or one page typed statement about the topic area.  This will essentially define the research area.  This is due on week 2.



2.  I will review and comment on these papers, and return them one class after you turn them in.


3.  Revised Topic Paper:  A revised version of the topic paper is due next.  It will be circulated in class for peer review and discussion on week 4.


4.  Begin your research, and prepare a typed list of 10 references you intend to consult in preparing the paper.  These will be distributed for peer review.  Due Week 5.


4.  Prepare notecards and reference cards.  I will inspect the first set of these and return them.  They will also be circulated for peer review.  Due Week 6.


5.  Complete the paper (Version 1), including all formats, references, footnotes, etc. It will be circulated for peer review at the next class.  Due Week 8.


6.  I will also review and critique your papers and return them to you.  I will give you a grade for Version 1 and assign a prospective grade for the paper if you do no more work on it.


7.  You then revise the paper in light of my comments and suggestions as well as those from peer review, and turn in Version 2 complete with all references, footnotes, and format requirements.  Due Week 11.




The grade on your term paper is made up of the following components:


1.  1-page topic paper:                                     10%

2.  List of 10 appropriate references:                 10%

3.  Version 1:                                                    20%

4.  Version 2:                                                    60%


Peer review will account for parts of the grade assigned in each component.


If you decide not to revise Version 1, then it counts for both Version 1 and Version 2, and will receive two grades, summing to 80% of your grade for the term paper. 




Doing a research project requires careful preparation.  Therefore, I am providing you with a method for conducting library research that should improve your final performance.  For many of you, this will seem "old hat."   Please follow these guidelines.  Part of your grade will be based on my inspection of your outline, your bibliography cards, and your note cards.




Prepare a detailed outline of your paper.  You may end up changing things around before you finish, but the outline will provide you with an initial structure around which you can organize your research.


Bibliography cards


Buy a pack of 3" x 5" note cards.  As you use each reference, write the complete citation for the work on this card.  Include a comment about where you found it.  Make a separate card for each reference.  Also, even if the reference doesn't strike you as very useful, prepare a bibliography card for it if you consult the work at all.  Later you may change your mind about its importance.  Assign a number to each card.  Place it on the upper right hand corner of the card.  Put a rubber band around your cards.


Note cards


Buy a pack of 4" x 6" or 5" x 7" cards.  As you read your reference, write your notes on these cards.  Use a separate card for each idea, incident, data set, or quotation that you encounter in a reference.  You may end up with dozens of note cards from each of your sources. 


The purpose of this procedure is to allow you to organize the material you review by the subjects in your outline, and to merge material from diverse sources into a single group of cards.  Therefore, place the number (and, if you like, a short title) from your outline that corresponds to the subject matter of your note card on the upper left hand side of the card.  Place the reference number and the appropriate page number on the upper right hand side of the card.  Put a rubber band around each set of cards by topic, and a bigger band around the whole collection of cards.


When in doubt, start a new card.  It is easier to shuffle them and organize them than to try to put the same card in two places.  Cards are cheap!


Hint:  if you find a very good quotation that is fairly long, you may wish to xerox the page on which it is found, cut the quotation out of the xeroxed page, and tape or paste it to your card.  Be careful not to get carried away with this xeroxing and pasting procedure, though; writing the note cards yourself is a good step toward learning the material and preparing for writing your own original paper.                                                                                   


Jill Howard

History of Economic Thought (WRTG)

January 14, 2004


Title:  "Howard University Graduates Fail to Gain Corporate Leadership"

Summary: This article states that, despite affirmative action programs, most blacks who graduate from Howard University with a degree in business do not gain prominence in the business world.  Examples are given of blacks who were given dead-end jobs to fulfill a quota and of others who were fired after a short tenure in a management position.  The article suggests that continuing racism among corporate executives has led them to circumvent

affirmative action by making only token gestures to bring them into apparent compliance with civil rights regulations.

Comment:  It appears that decades of struggle against such racism as described in the article have not succeeded in opening the doors of equal opportunity to blacks in business.  While there are a few Andrew Youngs and Leon Sullivans who occupy important corporate and political positions, most blacks continue to be deprived of their proper opportunities.  The continuing racism suggested in this article also raised the possibility that only those blacks who are willing to "toe the line" and carry out the dictates of racist corporate executives will be promoted.

It seems to me that the continuing discrimination against blacks in regular jobs is more important than the lack of business opportunities for blacks.  The fact is the black median income is only about 57% of white median income for families of four; it is this broader discrimination which is more important to black peoples' lives that the discrimination experienced at the top of the corporate ladder.