Capital Without Capitalism: Adam Smith, Arrighi, and Cultural Political Economy

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Virginia Tech


20th century debates within Marxism regarding the origins of capitalism—debates culminating in the Brenner Debate of the late 70's—have not been resolved. Recently, Giovanni Arrighi's Adam Smith in Beijing contributes to these debates by returning the conversation to the inheritance of classical political economy. Arrighi offers fresh readings of Adam Smith and Karl Marx to redefine capitalism and national development for the 21st century, paying particular attention to the relationship between state political power and market forces. Specifically, Arrighi makes the case that Marxists should not conflate markets with capitalism; that, in fact, markets are necessary for societies hoping to generate wealth for all. In making this argument, Arrighi argues for a market socialism, for a world of capital without capitalism. This thesis contextualizes this argument within the history of the Brenner Debate, noting how Arrighi's work refines earlier world-systems analysis and complicates Robert Brenner's accusation of Neo-Smithian Marxism. More importantly, this thesis considers closely Arrighi's argument and its reliance on the political economy of Adam Smith. It notes that contradictions in Smith's work lead to confused conceptions of capitalism for Arrighi and for the world at large, especially when one considers Smith's philosophical and ethical writings. Utilizing the lens of Inayatullah and Blaney's "cultural political economy", this thesis critiques Arrighi for neglecting the philosophical components of Smith's work, and attempts to expand Arrighi's definition of market socialism to account for capitalism as an ethical and philosophical project.



Culture, Political Economy, Capitalism, Capital, Markets, Development, Adam Smith, World-systems, Brenner Debate, Socialism