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Steven Hoelscher, Chair Burdine 437, Mailcode B7100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-7277

Spring 2004

AMS 315 • Democracy and Capitalism

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
26175 MWF
11:00 AM-12:00 PM
PAR 203

Course Description

Democracy is a system of government that allows for rule by the people. As an economic, rather than political, ideology, capitalism also articulates a belief that the public should make the most important decisions. Unlike democracy, however, capitalism advocates that the popular will be determined through the mechanism of the market; and it is this insistence that often marks the point at which the two systems part ways. Though both democracy and capitalism are foundational to the American way of thinking, an observer need look no further than current debates over health care reform, regulation of media ownership or governmental “do not call” telemarketing registries to see that the people’s desires as communicated via the market can often contradict the preferences that they express through the political process. These considerations lead directly to three questions. First, are democracy and capitalism even compatible? Secondly, if they are, what conditions must be met to ensure that the two systems work together harmoniously? Finally, how did such a patchwork system of political economy arise in the United States? This course will answer the last question first, examining the historical evolution of American democracy and American capitalism in order to prompt students to consider the more theoretical issues. Additionally, U.S. history shows that somewhat abstract alterations in political and/or economic arrangements often bring tremendous social changes much closer to home. Thus students will also examine cultural products -- fiction, journalism, music and movies – to gain insight into how Americans might have viewed changes in political economy as they were occurring.


Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, “Bartleby the Scrivener” (Herman Melville), Ragged Dick (Horatio Alger), Babbitt (Sinclair Lewis), Fast Food Nation (Eric Schlosser) A required course packet includes short selections from the following writers: Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, Karl Marx, William Jennings Bryan, Eugene V. Debs, Studs Terkel, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Students for a Democratic Society, John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Jude Wanniski, Francis Fukuyama, Thomas Frank, Thomas Friedman and Naomi Klein Films: Modern Times, High Noon, Roger and Me


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