Topics in Comparative Political Economy

Course Description

PS 210: Topics in Comparative Political Economy

Translating substantively significant political economy issues into researchable research problems is a challenge. The course objective will be to consider how these topics can provide the basis for research projects and dissertations in comparative politics and comparative political economy. Each class will explore both the substance of a particular problem to identify significant issues and the relation of those issues to questions of general interest in political economy and political science. The final course assignment will be a research paper that can be a master’s essay, an elaborated research design such as a draft dissertation prospectus, or a dissertation chapter.

Topics will include:

· The politics and the transformation of finance: Has the evolution of finance affected how governments and business interact. Was the transformation an inevitable result of technology and globalization or a policy choice? Was the crisis of 2008 the first financial collapse of the digital age?

o Financial systems, once principally national and rooted around domestic deposits and investments, have been transformed. They are now both market-based and often global in character. Arguably this transformation, facilitated by Information Technology tools, is at the root of the financial collapse of 2008, and more generally has consequences for the politics of domestic economic governance and strategies for growth.


· Green Growth, Energy Transformations, and the Climate Debate: Domestic and International Issues

o While the Climate problem is “global”, the solutions will lie in major part in the transition of domestic energy systems from high carbon low efficiency to high efficiency low carbon. That transformation will be costly in the short run and does not produce automatic or evident economic gain. Why do some countries pursue strategies to transform energy systems while others do not? Can Green Sustain Growth?


· The Third Globalization and the Commodity Trap: Can Wealthy Countries Stay Rich in the face of emerging market competition? There are an array of questions here.

o The decomposition of production and the transformation of services force us to reconsider the logic of value creation and, consequently, the dynamics of political economy. As production is outsourced and off-shored, where are jobs and who captures the value? Nationally rooted vertically integrated companies were the focus of debate and concern in the 20th century. They have given rise to cross national production net works. Services once feared to be the black hole of advanced economies have, enabled by information technology, become productivity drivers. For advanced countries these developments have created at once both a commodity trap potentially limiting productivity and wage increases, and escapes from that trap. These developments have also influenced the distribution of gains from growth.

§ For emerging markets we consider how the fragmentation of production and the evolution of finance creates diverse points of entry into the global economy. What are the politics of Rapid Innovation Based Growth that has been central to growth strategies?

§ For advanced countries the expanded competition across the value chain makes everything seem like a commodity and puts pressure on prices. Advanced country work forces face competition, thus, from increasingly diverse and skilled work forces in a variety of places.

– Are there escapes from the commodity trap? How can firms create and capture value in the advanced countries?

– The jobs producing an Apple product may be in China, but the value add is in the US. But can workers in the US share in that Bonanza?

§ Will cloud computing, which is an ICT evolution of significance and not just an advertising slogan, make the commodity trap worse? Or will it provide advance countries a way out? The answer is not in the technology, but in the policies and politics of adoption and diffusion.


· Technology, International Trade, and Policy: What drives jobs, income and wealth?

o What policies can affect the distributive outcomes of the transformation of work?


· Globalization with Borders: Will borders evaporate, change meaning, or be redrawn in a era of globalization? Is the world flat, or was Christopher Columbus right?

o Europe and the Euro Crisis: Have politics created an economic crisis, or, conversely, has economic misjudgment generated a political debacle? Does the current crisis have implications for our understanding of the origins and evolution of the European community?

o How does a nation’s regional neighborhood matter to its political and economic trajectory?

o Are tribal challenges to state authority in Iraq and the Catalan challenge to Spanish authority part of the same larger story.