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Background for Berkeley Political Economy Group Major Advisory Committee and Stakeholders' Meeting

Berkeley Political Economy Group Major Advisory Committee and Stakeholders' Meeting: Background

The phrase "political economy" has at least four meanings:

  • the heir of Enlightenment moral philosophy, in the same sense that today's proper sciences are the heirs of Enlightenment natural philosophy.
  • the rubble left of the Marxist, Marxisant, and Marxizoid project of social analysis and utopian transformation after history bombed it until the rubble bounced throughout the twentieth century.
  • public choice--the largely right-wing application of the assumptions of methodological individualism and anomic psychological self-interest to the social sciences.
  • things that have too much politics to be economics, too much history to be politics, too much sociology to be history, and too much economics to be sociology.

Political economy here at Berkeley as an undergraduate major is a group of four interlinked intellectual bets:

  • that for undergraduates at least the separation a century ago of the social sciences into walled, warring camps was not a clear win.
  • that there is, nevertheless, great value in the individual social sciences' analytical modes and tools.
  • that there is even greater value in the classical social theory tradition as grappling for the first time how a modern human society--one not composed overwhelmingly of malnourished peasants living and dying early in the small villages in which they were born and one not dominated by louse-riddem thugs with spears and perfumed thugs with styluses--actually worked.
  • that the nineteenth and early twentieth-century social, political, and economic history of the North Atlantic provides an essential set of benchmarks, yardsticks, and comparisons.

To that end we make them take world history (IAS 45) and a historical context course on the development of industrial soceties (like Hist. 160), we make them take economics (Econ 1, IAS 106, IAS 107) and statistics (Stat 2), we make them take classical social theory (PEIS 100), we make them take a course at the fence line dividing political science and economics (like PS 120), we make them take a course in modern political economy (PEIS 101) two years of foreign language, and we make them take four additional related semester courses as a "concentration" to become semi-experts in some topic area.

We have problems, which I divide into three groups--problems of structure, problems of intellect, and problems of implementation:

Problems of Structure:

  • We are underfunded by California Hall because we are not a department with a conveyor belt of angry senior faculty threatening to leave for private universities unless funding is beefed up.
  • California Hall regards it as prudent to underfund us because we are a "cash cow": providing a very good education to a lot of students very cheaply, thus freeing up financial resources so California Hall can respond to the departments with conveyor belts, et cetera.
  • California Hall regards it as moral to underfund us because we have a teaching rather than a research or a mixed mission, and this is a research university with a research university's priorities.

Problems of Intellect:

  • The four intellectual bets we place are part of a vision of the world and of interdisciplinary social science largely set nearly half a century ago. Are these still the right intellectual bets to place?
  • The classical social theory tradition from Machiavelli to Durkheim comes to an end nearly a century ago. There's been a lot of water under the bridge since, and perhaps it should be extended--Keynes, Polanyi, Hayek, and who else?
  • The problem of PEIS 101. Is it a survey of today's world and live issues? Is it an extension of PEIS 100 to cover thinkers since? Is it an application of theoretical perspectives developed in PEIS 100? What should it be?
  • How valuable is the "concentration"--this minor-within-the-interdisciplinary major--and how much guidance and structure should we impose on our students as they attempt to develop concentrations?
  • Foreign languages are a good thing. But does the foreign language requirement belong in the major?
  • Can we look at ourselves in the mirror when we recall that only a tiny proportion of our majors write senior theses?

Problems of Implementation:

  • What should we call ourselves? "PEIS" is out of date, and was never that great a name to begin with...
  • Lack of senior faculty to take persistent ownership of core courses.
  • Lack of pressure from California Hall on departments to support interdisciplinary majors, specifically:
    • Credit for teaching in them.
    • Admission of our students to courses taught by departments.
  • Rapid turnover of advising staff and resultant loss of valuable local knowledge.
  • Lack of resources for senior thesis advising--and other capstone experiences.
  • Lack of courses in which students work hard on their writing.
  • Lack of well-functioning discussion sections.
  • Lack of connection to the departments that truly are the core of what we do--history, sociology, economics, and political science.