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A Theory of Imperialism

In A Theory of Imperialism, economists Utsa Patnaik and Prabhat Patnaik present a new theory of the origins and mechanics of capitalism that sounds an alarm about its ongoing viability. Their theory centers on trade between the core economies of the global North and the tropical and subtropical countries of the global South and considers how the Northern demand for commodities (such as agricultural products and oil) from the South has perpetuated and solidified an imperialist relationship. The Patnaiks explore the dynamics of this process and discuss innovations that could allow the economies of the South to achieve greater prosperity without damaging the economies of the North. The result is an original theory of imperialism that brings to light the crippling limitations of neoliberal capitalism.

A Theory of Imperialism also includes a response by David Harvey, who interprets the agrarian system differently and sees other factors affecting trade between the North and the South. Their debate is one of the most provocative exchanges yet over the future of the global economy as resources grow thin, populations explode, and universal prosperity becomes ever more elusive.

Author Information

Utsa Patnaik is professor emerita and Prabhat Patnaik is professor emeritus at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Utsa's books include The Agrarian Question in the Neoliberal Era (2011) and The Republic of Hunger and Other Essays (2007). Prabhat is the author most recently of The Value of Money (Columbia, 2009) and Re-envisioning Socialism (2011).

David Harvey is a distinguished professor in the anthropology, history, and Earth and environmental sciences programs at CUNY's Graduate Center. His books include Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (2014) and Cosmopolitanism and the Geographies of Freedom (Columbia, 2009).


Compelling, convincing, and a corrective that is urgent.

Irfan Habib, author of The Agrarian System of Mughal India 1556–1707:
This is the best book-length treatment on the economic aspects of imperialism to have been published in the past several decades. It is theoretically powerful and empirically scrupulous, and its historical range covers the entire span of imperialism from the colonial period down to the present day

Samir Amin, author of The Implosion of Capitalism:
Utsa and Prabhat Patnaik provide us with an important and incisive contribution to the theory of imperialism. Through a rigorous analysis of the policies pursued in India, they demonstrate how the contemporary pattern of imperialism is a continuation of its previous colonial pattern, in which peasant agriculture is systematically undermined, thus generating a gigantic and growing reserve of surplus labour. The ideas outlined in A Theory of Imperialism are central to understanding the construction of the unequal global system in the past and in the present.

Robert Pollin, codirector and professor of economics, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts, Amherst:
A highly original, powerfully presented, and extremely thought-provoking new theory of imperialism that will force anyone concerned with the question of imperialism to rethink their own presuppositions.

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