Short Paper 2

Due by the end of the day Monday December 6 by email.

“How can I know what I think until I see what I say?” — E. M. Forster

Your task is to write a short paper on a theme that we have discussed or addressed in this course thus far – whether in my lectures, our discussions, or your reading. This assignment has several purposes. First, it is my way of gauging whether you understand the material and are attempting to grapple with the challenges it brings to understanding economics. You are perfectly free to accept it, reject it, or find a way to synthesize it with your current understanding of economic issues and research, so long as you argue why! Second, it is a chance for you to stimulate and develop your own thinking on some of the issues raised in this course, as well as an opportunity to develop your writing and communication skills. These skills are vital to any profession, and in truth, you do not fully understand an idea unless you engage it in writing. Finally, this assignment will be good preparation for your research paper (you could even reuse a topic with appropriate changes).

I am NOT looking for a survey of existing research, a series of block quotes showing what economists have said about \(x\), a regurgitation of my lectures, a list of pros and cons with a last minute conclusion, a book review, and so on. I also do NOT want you to compress everything you have learned so far into a single paper. You should only use those insights that you believe are relevant to your topic and your argument.

I am looking for a paper that is your own take on a topic, and one that puts forth an argument and defends it.

Length, References, & Mechanics

The required mechanics of this assignment are quite informal. This is not a research paper, nor an op-ed. Imagine it like a conversation among friends about some topic – it should be reasonably informative and persuasive, but not necessarily a formal piece of writing. I expect you to write between 3 and 5 pages (double spaced, size 12 Times New Roman or Arial font, 1" margins). You do not need to do any original research or use any outside sources aside from our readings, if applicable (if you wish to respond to something we read or if you believe it helps make your point).

I would also like you to use scholarly references, that is, articles from economics journals and cite them properly. I do not have a minimum requirement of the amount of references, but I expect you to have at least 2-5 scholarly references, depending on your paper topic and thesis. I am not particularly picky about exactly how you format your citations or bibliography, just please be consistent, and do not use footnotes or endnotes (only because they annoy me). I suggest the APA author-year-page in-text citation format that is fairly standard in economics journals, i.e.: “The division of labor is limited by the extent of the market,” (Smith 1776: 27). Look at my slides or my handouts for a suggested bibliography style. If you use .bib files, the default formatting is fine.

Grading Rubric

Here is the rubric that I will use to grade your paper:

Category Points
Soundness 50
Persuasiveness 40
Clarity & Organization 10
  • Economic Soundness: Does your topic have economic content? Do you properly use economic theory, are your explanations consistent and logical, and did you apply them correctly? Did you choose relevant (and non-cherry picked) evidence to back it up? Are your facts, data, or case studies accurate (if appropriate)?
  • Persuasiveness: How persuasive is your argument? Would a reasonably educated college-level reader find themselves understanding and agreeing with you?
  • Clarity: How clear is your paper? Does it focus clearly on a particular issue and provide some analysis or explanation of it?

Potential Topic Prompts

Here are a few suggestions, based on trains of thought that I think would be interesting, or ideas that I myself am currently grappling with. You are welcome to use these as motivating questions or jumping-off points to develop your own thoughts on an issue, just make sure to write a paper that has a reasonably clear thesis and argument. Do not think of these as a required set of questions that you must choose and specifically answer (i.e. this is not an exam). In fact, each bullet point contains multiple related questions, any one of which might spark a separate interesting paper.

You are not required to pick one of these questions. That is, you can write on your own topic that is interesting to you so long as it is relevant and builds off of what we have discussed so far. One suggestion would be to take a discussion question that you turned in or found interesting from the readings and lectures as a jumping off point.

  1. What is the problem with “finding the right people” to elect/appoint to govern a society?

  2. Who blocks innovation and creative destruction in a way that prevents a country’s economic development, and why do they do it?

  3. Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson argue that a major cause of differences in GDP per capita today come from historical institutions, especially in former colonies, the type of colony that was set up hundreds of years ago — either inclusive or extractive. One of the primary factors determining what type of colony Europeans chose to set up was disease — is this geography affecting development (through institutions) all over again?

  4. Most theories of the state in the classical liberal Western tradition of political philosophy (Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson & James Madison, John Rawls) suppose a “social contract” as the origin of the State - the agent that protects our rights. Olson (and others, we will see) argue the social contract is a fiction, and is not how states actually emerged. What are we to make of this?

  5. In Olson’s language, which societies today are ruled by “roving bandits” versus “stationary bandits?” How, specifically, does that affect their level of development?

  6. What is State capacity, and why is it necessary for economic development? What does it mean, according to Scott, to “see like a State.” Why is this so difficult?

  7. We pretty much know what policies and institutions generate prosperity (property rights, rule of law, etc). Leaders of developing countries probably know this as well (or can quickly find out). Why don’t they implement them? Or, more accurately, what would happen if they implement them?

  8. Successful societies “wage peace.” Explain how this is an apt summary for the politics of a LAO/natural state.

  9. Bueno de Mesquita’s “selectorate” theory is also famous for a much more complex (yet verifiable!) application of Olson’s logic. What is the selectorate? How is the selectorate different for democracies and non-democracies? What is the “winning/dominant coalition”?

  10. Adam Smith, Bastiat, and the Classical Economists ridiculed Mercantilism to a pulp, such that no serious economist today supports mercantilist ideas about trade. But how should we view Mercantilism in the context of its time?

  11. Ending mercantilism is simple, in theory - get rid of trade barriers, monopoly privileges, and other restrictions. Why is it so hard? And in particular, should we encourage developing countries to do this?

  12. Mercantilism as a coherent philosophy is archaic today. But how are some of its economic tenets (e.g. positive trade surplus) practiced or believed today?