Capitalism and its discontents

Course Dates: 21/04/21 - 23/06/21
Time: 18:00 - 19:30
Location: Online
Do we know what capitalism is? Without this knowledge, we can neither harness its potential, nor reform it, nor smash it and move beyond.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
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Full fee £149.00 Senior fee £149.00 Concession £66.00

This course has now started

Course Code: HPC76

Full Wed, eve, 21 Apr - 23 Jun '21

Duration: 10 sessions (over 10 weeks)

Call us to check your level, see if you can still join the course or to discuss other suitable courses

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

Capitalism gets a bad rap. It is hard to love a system that puts profits before people, justifies economic inequalities, celebrates individual success over solidarity, and views the whole of nature as a resource to mine. The rejection is not recent. Christians condemned capitalism as immoral, socialists as exploitative, the Romantics scorned its vulgarity, the Marxists viewed it as a necessary, but dreadful last stage before communist society. The best that could be said about capitalism was that it brought material prosperity. No small achievement. To the point that Leftist thinkers Mark Fisher and Slavoj Žižek declared: “It is easier to conceive the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”

Staying away from stereotypes, the course will dissect capitalism, reveal its ties to states and politics, monopolies, central banks and the production of money, free markets and wars. We will examine altogether the philosophical, juridical, moral, and economic dimensions of capitalism.

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?

The course will go over the origins of capitalism and its theoretical underpinnings in the works of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, J B Say, and J S Mill. We will discuss the modern advocates’ arguments, from the likes of Robert Nozick, or of the more extremist Ayn Rand, and the even more extremist anarcho-capitalists, like Murray Rothbard.

On the other side, the opposition is massive, starting with God’s own warning against Mammon. We will examine how religions judged the pursuit of wealth, the denunciation of the early ‘dark Satanic mills’, the mechanism of exploitation at the centre of Marxism, the class war, and we will question the compatibility of transnational capitalism with democratic nation states.

We will consider the success, but question the sustainability, of tamed capitalist regimes, German ordo-liberalism, Scandinavian social-democracies, hybrid regimes in the UK, Western Europe and elsewhere, and the impact of globalised neoliberalism. We will distinguish between capitalism and free markets, and end the course asking ourselves what form could capitalism take (if it can even survive) in a world where the appropriation of physical assets is less profitable than the (always vulnerable) control of immaterial data.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

… better understand what capitalism is, and how it works. For too many people, the definition of capitalism is “everything I don’t like about the world.” Such an approach is not only psychologically demotivating, it takes away the intellectual tools we need as citizens to push for changes. The course is an attempt to provide these tools. Far from slogans and clichés, we can only efficiently discuss, fight, or support what we clearly identify.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

This course is open to all, who are curious about the state of the world. The only requisite is an open mind, a willingness to rationally engage with provocative ideas, listen to others, and think.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

This will be a live online course on Zoom. It will include the tutor’s presentations of the different ideas under consideration, often with slides, mixed with lively student’s discussions. The tutor will circulate the slides after each lesson, sometimes with short “thinkpieces, which will be optional reading for the following lesson.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

As this will be a live online course, you will need:
- An internet connection, and an email address
- Preferably a computer with microphone and camera (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or as second best, a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone

City Lit will contact students with joining instructions before the course starts.

Have some writing material ready, if you wish to take notes during lessons, but as indicated above, the tutor will email the slides and visuals used in each lesson.

There are no additional costs.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Have a look at our range of politics classes in our online programme.

Christian Michel

After a brief stint at Sorbonne University reading French Lit and odd jobs in the film industry, Christian Michel joined a financial firm in Paris, before moving to Geneva, working on projects in West Africa and Russia. To use a common metaphor, business is only looking at trees, whereas Christian was keen to gain a perspective on the whole forest. He developed an interest in economics, questioning the purpose of it all – why work, why trade, why money, why growth, and what effects do production and consumption have on us, on our society and on nature. Christian has written a couple of books (in French) on these topics and many articles. He has been teaching various courses at City Lit since 2013.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.