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Unformatted text preview: Reading Notes I mmanuel Wallerstein: The World Capitalist System THE DEVELOPMENT OF A WORLD ECONOMIC SYSTEM A Summary of Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World Economy in the Sixteenth Century (New York: Academic Press, 1974) In his book, The Modern World System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World Economy in the Sixteenth Century , Immanuel Wallerstein develops a theoretical framework to understand the historical changes involved in the rise of the modern world. The modern world system, essentially capitalist in nature, followed the crisis of the feudal system and helps explain the rise of Western Europe to world supremacy between 1450 and 1670. According to Wallerstein, his theory makes possible a comprehensive understanding of the external and internal manifestations of the modernization process during this period and makes possible analytically sound comparisons between different parts of the world. MEDIEVAL PRELUDE Before the sixteenth century, when Western Europe embarked on a path of capitalist development, "feudalism" dominated West European society. Between 1150-1300, both population as well as commerce expanded within the confines of the feudal system. However, from 1300-1450, this expansion ceased, creating a severe economic crisis. According to Wallerstein, the feudal crisis was probably precipitated by the interaction of the following factors: 1. Agricultural production fell or remained stagnant. This meant that the burden of peasant producers increased as the ruling class expanded. 2. The economic cycle of the feudal economy had reached its optimum level; afterwards the economy began to shrink. 3. A shift of climatological conditions decreased agricultural productivity and contributed to an increase in epidemics within the population. THE NEW EUROPEAN DIVISION OF LABOR Wallerstein argues that Europe moved towards the establishment of a capitalist world economy in order to ensure continued economic growth. However, this entailed the expansion of the geographical size of the world in question, the development of different modes of labor control and the creation of relatively strong state machineries in the states of Western Europe. In response to the feudal crisis, by the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the world economic system emerged. This was the first time that an economic system encompassed much of the world with links that superseded national or other political boundaries. The new world economy differed from earlier empire systems because it was not a single political unit. Empires depended upon a system of government which, through commercial monopolies combined with the use of force, directed the flow of economic goods from the periphery to the center. Empires maintained specific political boundaries, within which they maintained control through an extensive bureaucracy and a standing army. Only the techniques of modern capitalism enabled the modern world standing army....
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- Spring '08