The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd


  • Alice H. Amsden
Reference work entry


Few subjects of such conspicuous historical importance have so consistently escaped lucid theoretical exposition as imperialism. The neoclassical economists have made no theoretical gains whatsoever in the field, having chosen to ignore the subject altogether. Their starting and ending point is a short essay borrowed from Schumpeter in which imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is attributed to the atavism of states, acting on feudal and absolutist impulses from an earlier precapitalist era. The field, therefore, has been dominated by Marxists. ‘To write about theories of imperialism is already to have a theory,’ states Barratt Brown (1972). In modern times, just to use the word is to label what is said as Marxist. The word – like capitalism itself – also implies a theory of broadly construed economic systems and long historical epochs. The sweep of the subject matter is reflected in the breadth of the two major propositions that Marxists have posed: that imperialism and monopoly capitalism are synonymous; and that capitalism underdevelops the third world. The sweep of the subject matter has lent itself to meaningless generalizations and reductionist arguments. But to ignore imperialism altogether on the ground that it is a political phenomenon is to abrogate a responsibility to study a major dimension of economic life, in particular the relationship between the operations of the market and coercive mechanisms.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alice H. Amsden
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