POL S 270 A: Introduction To Political Economy

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MW 12:00pm - 2:10pm
DEN 258
Yu Sasaki

Syllabus Description:

Course Description

Political economy is the study of the efficient allocation of scarce resources. In this course, we make a few simple assumptions based on the study of economics: First, actors always want to maximize their own welfare while reducing its cost to a minimum. Second, actors face constraints---financial, time, resources, power, to name but a few---upon making their decisions. Based on these assumptions, we will examine a wide variety of questions from politics, the economy, and society. For instance, when it comes to alleviating poverty in Africa, what are some of the most cost-effective ways to do so? Should government leaders cut checks for individual citizens? Should we instead distribute school uniforms to encourage children to go to school? Or should we introduce a universal basic income to guarantee everyone with a minimum pay? Which policy is likely to yield greater income-generating behavior? Political economy provides powerful and useful perspectives to address these questions. The course has two broad tasks. First, it introduces students to basic analytical concepts of political economy. More specifically, the course stresses the principles of rational choice and explores a variety of applications to not just economic decisions in everyday life but also pressing political questions. The emphasis is on the individual and how individuals respond to incentives. Second, the course addresses some of the critical issues in politics with a focus on authoritarianism and economic development. It uses the political-economy approach to understanding why authoritarianism persists and why economic development is difficult. In short, the course examines political questions from economic perspectives and offers crucial analytical skills.

Course Objectives

This course will enable you to achieve, inter alia, the following intellectual goals:

  • to understand how incentives shape individual behavior;
  • to understand how rules affect individual behavior;
  • to understand how rules create less-than-ideal situations and make individuals and society as a whole worse off;
  • to understand how individuals make rules that benefit them at the expense of others; and
  • to understand how and why poverty persists in Africa and why poverty alleviation is hard


Grades are based on three in-class examinations and class participation.

  • Midterm 1 (20%): Wednesday, July 5
  • Midterm 2 (20%): Wednesday, July 26
  • Final exam (30%): Wednesday, August 16
  • Participation (30%): ongoing

Office Hours

Tuesday, 2-4pm, Smith 43



Catalog Description: 
Political economy as a tool for understanding and evaluating the political world. Combines theory, methods, and insights derived from economics and political science and applies them to a range of substantive issues.
Department Requirements: 
International Relations Field
American Politics Field
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:36pm