ECON 335 Political Economy Course Guide

Course Description

Political economy is the study of economic systems, institutions, and outcomes from the perspective of who gains and loses. Conflict over the distribution of these gains and losses, and the use of power to obtain a desired economic outcome will be the focal points of much of our analysis. As such, the methodology used in this course will differ substantially from that used by mainstream economics, which focuses primarily on efficiency and growth and ignores different concepts of economic justice and the role of distribution and power in affecting economic outcomes. To facilitate this approach, this course takes a critical look at American capitalism from contrasting theoretical perspectives, where the interaction of political, social, and cultural forces is brought to bear on economic interactions. This will allow us to develop a broader and more sophisticated perspective on how the American economy actually works, why it doesn’t always work, who it works for and against, and why it changes over time.

Assessable Learning Objectives

  1. Demonstrate understanding of how conflict over the distribution of economic gains and power relations affect economic outcomes
  2. Use quantitative data and qualitative analysis to explain and critique the manner in which American capitalism functions and changes over time
  3. Identify and evaluate the merit of competing theoretical perspectives
  4. Identify and critique different principles of economic justice

Course Outline

  1. Introduction to Political Economy
  2. Capitalism, Conflict, and Change
  3. Economic Justice and Distribution
  4. Markets as Institutions
  5. Production and Profits
  6. Command, Conflict, Effort, and Efficiency Wages
  7. Bargaining Power, Aggregate Demand, and Unemployment
  8. Bargaining Power and Inflation
  9. Looking Forward: Alternative Forms of Economic Organization


Recommended Teaching Methodology

The primary objective in teaching this class is to engage students in critical thinking about political economy, from not only a theoretical perspective, but also from an empirical and applied perspective. The latter approach opens the door to discussions and assignments that deal with policy implications.

The primary method of teaching will likely stress interactive lecture and class discussion. Presentations should clarify and amplify text material, providing students with the opportunity to engage in discussion regarding course topics. Instructors should seek to limit the amount of lecturing in the traditional sense, where text material is repeated in a different format.

Secondary methods include the discussion of relevant current events and newspaper articles that provide examples and insight into economic perspectives on labor issues. Articles and cases may be assigned for oral and/or written presentation and discussion. Four to six problems sets that stress quantitative skills, especially the use of basic algebraic concepts as they relate to theories discussed in class, will also be used. A final paper—a critical book review—will allow students to apply the topics discussed in class and in the readings to a book of the professor’s choosing.

Recommended Assessment Measures

Regular assessment serves at least four objectives within this course. First, assessment provides feedback to students on their achievement and shortcomings while a course is underway. Second, assessment may provide an incentive for students to actively engage and study course material. Third, assessment is the process by which student evaluation is quantified for purposes of course grades. Finally, assessment provides feedback to the faculty on student achievement of course objectives. Design of assessment measures for the course should satisfy each of these objectives.

  1. The primary method for assessing the attainment of knowledge is through a midterm and final exam. Exams must be designed to assess the student’s level of understanding and ability to discuss material, from the text and class discussions, that is directly related to the learning objectives. Exams must stress problem solving and analytical thinking abilities, not memorization skills.
  2. Students will complete four to six mathematical problem sets, some of which will require students to collect, format, analyze, and interpret economic data from the BEA. The math used will be basic algebra applied to theories and models discussed in class and in the readings. An application of the findings to policy implications will be stressed.
  3. Students will write a book review for their final paper. This will allow students to draw on the rich volume of material presented in class and apply it to a broad, historical event, such as the evolution of neoliberalism. This project will stress research and writing skills, but will also force students to critically and comparatively analyze different economic theories.

Statement of Expectations

Students should expect that the average weekly workload in this course would be three hours in class plus a minimum of six hours of reading, studying, and assignment preparation. It is expected that students address issues of theory and policy with equal vigor.

The material covered in this course is not easy—economics is inherently difficult, especially in a very competitive environment. Most of the learning that will take place will not happen in the classroom. Students should understand that most learning takes place when they are working on the material outside of class, when they are reading, thinking critically, analyzing, and applying concepts and techniques. The amount that students learn and the level of skill that is developed will be directly related to the amount of effort that is expended. Classes are opportunities to discuss and apply the material, and to develop communication and leadership skills. They are also opportunities for professors to provide insight, to help students attain understanding, and for the evaluation of performance.

Prerequisite Knowledge and Skills

The most important prerequisites are an interest in the subject, a willingness to commit the necessary resources in terms of time and intellectual effort, and a desire to actively participate in the learning process. The formal prerequisites are ECON 101 and ECON 102. This course will require a challenging mix of analytic, writing, and oral communication skills. Students should be prepared to deal extensively with the graphs, algebraic concepts, and detailed technical language. Students having concerns about their level of preparation should see their instructor.

Institutional Mechanism for Providing Feedback for Continuous Quality Improvement

Individual professors teaching this course will evaluate each student based on course objectives. Performance assessments will be summarized and reported to the department head or a designate, with separate assessments for relevant learning outcomes. Performance assessments from multiple sections and professors will be compiled into a single comparative report. This report will be utilized for periodic evaluation of ECON 102. The fundamental objective of reviewing student outcomes across course sections is to provide regular feedback for improving instructional effectiveness.