Overview of the Course

Week 1


In this course, I am trying something different.  In the past, it has been offered primarily as a course about economic development, or about political change, but generally not both. In the political economy tradition, I don’t think it is possible to separate political, economic, and social development, and so I am trying to provide you with both a historical overview of the ways in which we have thought about development, and a comparative framework within which to evaluate claims about the good, bad, and ugly sides of political, economic and social development.


After the course, you should have a framework for organizing your ideas about contemporary phenomena like the Occupy Movement, the Arab Spring, debt relief, anti-globalization movements, and the relative power of states and corporations. This framework should be built on a better understanding of how western countries became relatively rich and powerful, and at what cost.


The course is built around four core texts, three of which you will be expected to read and understand, and from which you will draw to analyze and evaluate the explanatory value of alternative descriptions of economic, political, and social development. The fourth text is a reference.


The major ideas of the course include the power of markets but also their destructiveness, the necessity for government to create the conditions for markets to work but also the constraining force of government extraction, and the social basis of economic activity, but also the social costs of disruptive change. When we apply these ideas to a global political, economic, and social system, we can see their relevance for conflict, violence, peace, progress and stability.


If there is one central message in the course, it is that these three aspects of development cannot be usefully separated: economic analysis of markets without consideration of politics or social relationships is likely to be misleading.

Learning Objectives for this week

Students will describe the authors, sources, and methods of the three primary textbooks, and demonstrate an understanding of the significance of the links between them.

Required Reading

Required reading should be completed by the first class (Monday) in the week for which it is due.  Note that we may be using different editions of the texts, and I rely mainly on e-books, so we will refer to chapters and headings, not to page numbers.


This week, you should read the front matter (preface, forward, introduction, tables of contents) for each of the three primary texts before class on Wednesday afternoon.


Optional Reading

Biographies, reviews, and other material related to the three authors of the primary texts, plus Joseph Stiglitz.

Notes on textbooks

We will discuss the three primary and one secondary textbooks.  The difference is that the primary texts are coherent scholarly works that you can read like a page-turning novel (while checking the footnotes, of course). They are classic and influential books that have been frequently reviewed and have stood the test of time (check the number of citations in Google scholar).  The edited collection, on the other hand, is a sound textbook for understanding the changing way in which economists have approached the problem of economic development, but is suitable for dipping and skimming.


An interesting connection is that Joseph Stiglitz wrote the forward for the 2001 edition of Polanyi’s book, which we will be using.



Prepare point-form notes on your thoughts about approaching each of the assignments.


Each week we will schedule time to discuss the progress of your assignments, which will be an integral part of the discussion of the lecture materials and readings.


Take time now to look through the marking scheme and major assignments you will complete, and give some thought to the cases you will explore.

Self-Assessment Questions

This week’s self-assessment questions relate to the authors of the primary textbooks, and one editor of the secondary text. You will find that the prefaces and front-matter of each of the books will guide you in the right direction, along with some judicious searching.


Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: the political and economic origins of our time.

1. who was Karl Polanyi? when and where did he write?

2. how did his experience shape his writing?


Philipp Bobbitt, The shield of Achilles: War, peace, and the course of history

3. What was Bobbitt’s connection to the Clinton administration?

4. Why is this significant? What major events occurred while he was preparing this book?


Robert Putnam, Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community

5. What other work has Putnam produced, before and after Bowling Alone?

6. What else has Putnam written and what does this tell us about his focus?


Meier and Stiglitz, (eds), Frontiers of development economics: the future in perspective.

7. For what work did Stiglitz get a Nobel memorial prize in economics?

8. Why did he write the forward to the 2001 Polanyi text we are using?

Bonus question:

9. What to Philip Bobbitt, Joe Stiglitz, David Rothkopf, and Tom Reich have in common?  Why is this significant?


We will discuss these questions next week.


We lose two hours this week because of Labour Day, but we will take time during the class to discuss your assignments, approach to readings, and integration of material.

David Last, updated September 2014, lastdav@gmail.com