GV4E2      Half Unit
Capitalism and Democracy

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr David Woodruff and Prof Jonathan Hopkin


This course is available on the MSc in Political Science (Conflict Studies and Comparative Politics), MSc in Political Science (Global Politics), MSc in Political Science (Political Science and Political Economy) and MSc in Political Theory. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Available as an outside option for students on other programmes with the teachers' consent. This course is capped at 3 groups. In 2022/2023, almost all Department of Government students who wished to take the course were able to do so.

Course content

Compatibility and incompatibility of capitalism and democracy; Constitutional restraints on economic policymaking in central banking and property rights; Democracy and economic inequality; World context and the compatibility of democracy and capitalism; Democracy and economic crisis. This course examines the uneasy interaction between the two dominant concepts underpinning political and economic institutions in advanced industrial societies. It addresses in particular questions about the relationship of capitalism to democracy, both conceptually and empirically. We consider whether democracy undermines or supports capitalism, focusing on policies relating to central banking, redistribution, and property rights. We also examine how capitalism may undermine or sustain democracy and whether contemporary international circumstances heighten the tension between democracy and capitalism.


This course is delivered through a combination of seminars and lectures totalling a minimum of 30 hours in the Winter Term.

There will be a reading week in Week 6 of the WT.

Formative coursework

All students are expected to submit one non-assessed essay.

Indicative reading

Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. Holmes, 'Precommitment and the Paradox of Democracy'. Mill, Considerations on Representative Government. Kalecki, 'Political Aspects of Full Employment'. Lohmann, ‘An Information Rationale for the Power of Special Interests’. McNamara, ‘Rational Fictions: Central Bank Independence and the Social Logic of Delegation’. Beard, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. Kenworthy and Pontusson, 'Rising Inequality and the Politics of Redistribution in Affluent Countries'.


Exam (100%, duration: 2 hours) in the spring exam period.

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 25.3
Merit 62.3
Pass 12.3
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2022/23: 45

Average class size 2022/23: 15

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Commercial awareness