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Samir Amin was born in Cairo, the son of two doctors, his father Egyptian and his mother French. He lived in Port Said in northern Egypt and attended the French lycée there, receiving his baccalaureate in 1947. Amin then enrolled at the Lycée Henri IV in Paris to study mathematics and at the Institut d’études Politiques to study law, which at the time was the way to study economics. He received a diploma in political science in 1952 and a license in law and economics in 1953 and then opted to pursue a doctorate in economics. He also obtained a diploma in statistics from the Institut de Statistiques de L’université de Paris in 1956. In June 1957, Amin received a doctorate in economics under the direction of Maurice Byé and with the additional guidance of François Perroux. As a student, Amin spent much of his time as a militant with various student movements and from 1949 to 1953 helped publish the journal Étudiants Anticolonialistes, through which he met many of the future members of Africa’s governing elite.
From 1957 to 1960, Amin worked in Cairo on economic development issues for the Egyptian government, then moved to Bamako, Mali, where he was an adviser to the Malian planning ministry (1960–1963). In 1963 he moved to Dakar, Senegal, where he took a fellowship (1963–1970) at the Institut Africain de Développement Économique et de Planification (IDEP). He became a director at IDEP (1970–1980) and subsequently was named director of the Third World Forum (1980–). Amin has at various times held professorships in Poitiers, Dakar, and Paris.
The author of more than thirty books, Amin’s brilliant 1957 dissertation, subsequently published in 1970 as L’accumulation à l’échelle mondiale; critique de la théorie du sous-développement (translated in 1974 as Accumulation on a World Scale: A Critique of the Theory of Underdevelopment), was the earliest significant work to argue that underdevelopment in much of the world was a direct consequence of the way the capitalist economy functions. He argued that this polarization is due to transfers of profits from the poor countries to the rich, which help alleviate potential underconsumptionist problems in the industrial economies, allowing the industrial world to pay higher salaries or offer lower prices to consumers than would be possible were the labor theory of value to work simply at the national level.
Amin’s new emphasis on the global economy as a unit of analysis is intended to explain global salary and price differences within a Marxist labor theory of value. Even his later works (e.g. Obsolescent Capitalism and Beyond U.S. Hegemony) have built on this model to critique imperialist projects generally and post–September 11, 2001 U.S. hegemonic efforts more particularly. Amin argues for a polycentric world that can counteract monopolies in areas such as technology, finance, natural resources, media, and weapons production that consistently hurt poor countries.
Amin’s reliance on a labor theory of value and underconsumptionist theory has limited his analytical outlook and led him to make overly simplistic predictions even as it has allowed a holistic historical materialistic perspective. Nevertheless, his criticisms of neoclassical equilibrium models and imperialistic projects have long since been joined by those of economists and social scientists from many different theoretical persuasions.
- Amin, Samir. 1970. L’accumulation à l’échelle mondiale; critique de la théorie du sous-développement. Dakar, IFAN. Translated by Brian Pearce as Accumulation on a World Scale: A Critique of the Theory of Underdevelopment. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1974.
- Amin, Samir. 1976. Unequal Development: An Essay on the Social Formations of Peripheral Capitalism. Trans. by Brian Pearce. New York: Monthly Review Press.
- Amin, Samir. 1994. Re-Reading the Postwar Period: An Intellectual Itinerary. Trans. by Michael Wolfers. New York: Monthly Review Press.
- Amin, Samir. 1997. Capitalism in the Age of Globalization: The Management of Contemporary Society. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Zed Books.
- Amin, Samir. 2003. Obsolescent Capitalism: Contemporary Politics and Global Disorder. Trans. by Patrick Camiller. New York: Zed Books.
- Amin, Samir. 2006. Beyond U.S. Hegemony? Assessing the Prospects for a Multipolar World. Trans. by Patrick Camiller. New York: Zed Books.
- Amin, Samir. 2007. A Life Looking Forward: Memoirs of an Independent Marxist. Trans. by Patrick Camiller. New York: Zed Books.
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