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A comparative analysis of three economic theories focusing upon the international trade of hazardous waste (the case of electric arc furnace dust)

Amy Silverstein Cramer, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation is primarily a comparison of the ways that different theories address social phenomena. As an important sub-theme, it is about relationships among theories, targeted social issues, and political actions. I argue that among the infinite processes that constitute any particular process are alternative theories (explanations of the social totality). A conscious acknowledgment of alternative theories and their respective entry points is important because it has a significant bearing on decisions regarding political actions that may affect the social totality. The targeted social issue used as an example in this dissertation is the international trade of hazardous waste, with a specific focus upon U.S.-Mexico trade of electric arc furnace dust. There are two dominant economic theories that help shape current political actions regarding international trade of hazardous waste: Neoclassical and World-Systems theories—both essentialist in epistemology and ontology. I show that Neoclassical theory calls for the policy of free trade in hazardous waste, while World-Systems theory calls for the policy of trade bans in hazardous waste between OECD and non-OECD countries. Both theories assume that theory is the primary determinant of policy and that policy will necessarily achieve the stated objective (maximum material well-being for Neoclassical theory and the end of unequal exchange between developed and peripheral countries for World-Systems theory). A third, relatively-new theory that is not widely known is Marxian Class theory, which is nonessentialist in both epistemology and ontology. It has a very different conception of policy than essentialist theories. Marxian Class theory views itself as one among an infinite number of processes that helps shape political interventions, which it views as being among an infinite number of processes that help to shape the stated objective. Because of its unique entry points, the class process and overdetermination, it has the potential to focus attention on the otherwise ignored process of exploitation. This theory is therefore in a unique position to help push the social totality toward elimination of this injustice, and to help create alliances among those whose foci may differ but whose larger goals are to create a less toxic and more equitable social totality.

Subject Area

Economic theory|Economics|Business costs

Recommended Citation

Cramer, Amy Silverstein, "A comparative analysis of three economic theories focusing upon the international trade of hazardous waste (the case of electric arc furnace dust)" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9960746.