Seminar in Political Economy
Political Science 6448, Fall 2011
Click here for the Political Economy Bibliography


   Dave Robertson, Office: 801 Tower,
   Ph: 314-516-5855, Fax: 314-516-7236,

    Office Hours: 10:30-11:30 Monday & Wednesday; 9-noon Thursday
            I'm happy to meet at other times that  suit your schedule
    Class meets in the Political Science conference room, Tuesdays, 6:55-9:35 pm

·         "No nation was ever ruined by trade"    --- Benjamin Franklin

·         "The merchant has no country"               --- Thomas Jefferson

·         "Microsoft and the government were the perfect opponents. The government has
     some power,  but Microsoft has at least as much. Anyone else facing either one
     of them would have been overmatched." 
--- David Boies, lead trial lawyer  for the U.S. government
               in the Microsoft anti-trust case
( New York Times, June 9, 2000,  1)

·         "Follow the money"  
         --- "Deep Throat"
[W. Mark Felt] to Bob Woodward, in All the President's Men

1. Course Description. These quotes suggest the conflict, contradiction and ambiguity that result when the words "politics" and "economics" are thrown together. Conflict, contradiction and ambiguity result when the words "politics" and "economics" are thrown together. The intersection of politics and economics raises questions - and sparks conflicts - about the fundamental issues of politics: freedom, security, order, sovereignty, fairness, and democracy. In  Political Economy & Public Policy, we will examine how the struggles for power and for wealth affect one another and the realization of these values. Specifically, we will compare and contrast political and market solutions to collective problems; the politics of economic crises; corporations and labor in the political economy; regulation, monetary policy; and fiscal policy

2. Books. The following books are required for the course:

 3. Grading. Grades will be allocated in the following way:

-         Participation                                        20%

-         2 Short Papers                                    10% each

-         Seminar paper or Research Design        40%

-         Final Exam                                          20%

4. Participation. You are expected to attend all seminar sessions, to have the readings for each session prepared, and to contribute thoughtful and informed questions comments to the discussion. If you do so you will receive an "A" for this part of the grade. Remember, this seminar will succeed only to the extent that you participate. Its success depends on you. Everyone is especially expected to participate actively on November 29.

You will be responsible for preparing for one or two predetermined questions for each seminar.  To prepare questions for class, be ready to talk about why the question is important, two alternative answers to the question, and the reason that you think one answer is better than others. You do not have to hand in a written answer to the question.  The discussion questions will be available at the preceding class, and placed on the "Detailed Course Outline," below. 

5. Short Papers. There will be two short (6-10 page, typed) papers for the the course. These papers are due September 27 and November 8.  You should choose books that you are eager to read, and/or are critically important for your research paper. For the second paper, you can do one of two things: (1) a book review of a second book or (2) an analysis of some political feature of the economic problems of the financial crisis and Great Recession (broadly defined). You should get the book approved no later than 2 weeks before the paper are due. The book or books can be part of the literature you review for the seminar paper.  They should not be books required for another class.

To write the book review:

No more than half the paper should summarize the argument; the rest should critique the book by assessing its strengths and weaknesses, and drawing appropriate connection to other scholarship. 


a. Summarize the book’s content (no more than half the paper) by answering the following questions: (a) What is the topic? (b) How would you summarize the key arguments and the evidence for them? (c) What does the author conclude? (d) how does this book relate to other scholarly works or literatures?


b. Analyze the book by answering the following questions: (a) Does the author make a persuasive case for her central point? (b) Is the evidence adequate? (c) does the author use evidence and treat other authors in a fair way? (d) What parts of the argument are most effective? Which are least effective? (e) What are the implications of this argument for understanding politics?

6. Seminar paper or research design.

Option 1 is a conventional research paper (15-20 pages) on a topic of interest to you and related to politics and the economy in the broadest sense. By September 13 at the latest, turn in a paragraph in which you (1) specify the research question, and (2) discuss your plan for finding an answer, including evidence and logic. A bibliography and an outline are due on October 25. The paper is due on December 8.

Option 2 is a research design. See below.

7. Exam. There will be a take home final exam. You will have the questions in advance, and you will have a week to compose your answers. It is due Monday, December 14.

8. Additional Information on Political Economy. For a more extensive bibliography with some links to major sources of information, go to The Political Economy Bibliography.

- The Research Design Assignment -


The research design assignment requires a 15-20 page research proposal based on answers to the following questions. You will not have to turn in a completed research project -- only a rigorous plan for such a project.


Here are the key elements of the research design. Remember, the methods you use should be directly related to the question you are trying to answer. Qualitative methods may be more appropriate than quantitative methods, or the quantitative methods may be more appropriate. You might use rigorous analysis of archival sources, or you might model data. You might use some of both methods.


1. Topic. What is the central issue that will motivate your research? Explain precisely what topic you will examine. Explain why it matters (it may matter because it is central to scientific theory, because it is a central policy or political issue today, because it was a decisive turning point in political development, or because conventional wisdom about the topic may be wrong). There are many ways to get ideas for topics.  Several are included in our readings. You can find others in key journals, such as The American Political Science Review or other general political science journals, or more specialized journals your topic should be interesting to you.  You are welcome to try out dissertation ideas.


2. Literature Review. What do we know about this topic? Who has written about it? What are their central arguments and assertions? What are the key concepts? What are the important open questions in the field? (Sources include bibliographies, literature reviews, computer-assisted references, and discussions with faculty).


3. Theoretical Question. Once you have chosen a topic, you have to specify the problem you want to study.  You will have to try to isolate one precise question about the topic to answer in a discrete research project. Precisely what question will your research try to answer? This may take the form of a relationship between a dependent variable and several independent variables (that is, Why did something happen the way it did? What caused it? Factor A? Factor B? Some combination?). It also may take the form of the relationship between two non-recurring events. 


(a) - What behaviors, event, or outcomes are you trying to explain?

         (b) - What behaviors, events or outcomes can account for (a), above?

         (c) - What is the relationship between (a) and (b)?  For example,

                 (1) For (a) to occur, was (a) necessary and / or sufficient?

                 (2) Does (a) occur more frequently when (b) occurs?

                 (3) Does (a) occur more frequently when (b) occurs?

                 (4) Does (b) determine (a) (when a happens, b necessarily happens)?


(d) - What other factors may need to be taken into account?


4. Information. What information will you collect to answer the central theoretical question? Define 3 (a) and 3 (b) precisely. How do I know them when I see them (are they Congressional votes? If so, precisely which ones? Where can I find them?). Specify why historical information is required to answer the question.


5. Techniques. How will you analyze the question? That is, what is your proposed research strategy answering the question? How will you decide that a relationship between (a) and (b) is confirmed or refuted by the evidence? Will you statistically assess the relationship between variables? If so, how? If not, what qualitative methods will you use to rigorously assess their relationship? Will you use a mixture of methods? How will you assess the role of other factors (3 d).


6. Validity and Objectivity. How do you know that your conclusions will be valid? Are there flaws in your method that could cast doubt on your findings about the relationship of (a) and (b)? How do we know that the numbers and documents offer reasonably reliable measures of what you claim they measure? What explicit steps will you take to assure a reader that you are being fair-minded and objective in each step of the process?


7. What is the projected outline of the final written product?


8. What timetable will you have for the project? Give a realistic estimate of the time it will take to complete each step above.


9. Provide a bibliography.


The Course in Brief

Click on date for details for each class; "[MG]" indicates a document in the "My Documents" section of My Gateway

August 23:            Introduction: Politics and Markets

August 30:            How the Economy is Political -- and Why

September 6:            Foundations of American Political Economy

September 13:          Systems in Crisis: Industrialization

        Paper Topic Due

September 20:          Business, Labor, & Progressivism

September 27:   Systems in Crisis: Depression and New Deal

      Short Paper 1 Due

October 4The Golden Age of Managed Capitalism 

October 11:       The Welfare State and Varieties of Capitalism

October 18:    Systems in Crisis: Stagflation and the Economic Approach to Politics

October 25:       The Rise of NeoLiberal Politics in the U.S.

     Research Bibliography & Outline due

November 1:           The Rise of NeoLiberal Politics Abroad      

November 8:                Power, the State, and Contemporary Political Economy

        Short Paper 2 Due

November 15:          Globalization, the Financial Crisis and the Recession

November 22:         Thanksgiving Break      

November 29:           The Budget Deficit

December  6:     Globalization and Justice

December  8 (Thursday):  Paper due by 5 pm

December 13 (Tuesday):   Take Home Exam Due

Detailed Course Outline

August 23: Introduction: Politics and Markets

August 30: How the Economy is Political -- and Why  

Read:  Eisner, The American Political Economy, 3-36  
Caporaso and Levine, Theories of Political Economy, vii-55;
          North, Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance, 3-45; 92-104


Discussion questions:

1)  What are the three conceptions of the political, according to Caporaso and Levine? How are these applied to explaining politics and economic policy? Illustrate with examples from a policy area with which you are familiar, or contemporary economic issues.

2)   What are the three conceptions of economics, according to Caporaso and Levine? How are these applied to explaining politics and economic policy? Illustrate with examples from a policy area with which you are familiar, or contemporary economic issues.

3)  What should be the role of the state in economic policy, according to the classical tradition in economics?  Has the state done the economy more good than harm, or more harm than good? Use Eisner in your answer.

4)   Explain the importance of North’s behavioral assumptions. Give real world examples of the problems he identifies on page 24 Why is cooperation a problem?

5)   Why are transaction costs so important to North? Why are informal constraints so important to North?

6)   What is path dependence and why is it so important to North?  Why is it important to Eisner?  What are the implications for understanding the economy and the impact of economic policy?

7)   Why do people find government an attractive solution to their economic problems? Give specific examples, such as health care.

8)  Why do people find markets an attractive solution to their economic problems? Give specific examples, such as health care.

September 6:                   Foundations of American Political Economy

Read:  Douglass North, Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance 46-69, 118-130;
           Karl Polanyi, "The Self-Regulating Market and the Ficticious Commodities: Land, Labor,
                               and Capital" [MG]
 David Brian Robertson, Federalism and the Making of America (Routledge, 2011), ch 2 [MG];

           William Cronon, "Rails and Water," from Nature’s Metropolis (W.W. Norton, 1992) [MG]   
1). Why are two kinds of formal constraints -- property rights and contracts -- so important for
      North's explanation of economic development?  What is government’s role in these constraints?

2). Why does North say that the Riker quote (pages 59-60) "go to the heart of the issue of creating effective institutional constraints"?

3). Summarize Polanyi’s argument.  How does his argument relate to Eisner’s observations about markets and the state? What are the political implications for a democracy?  Is his analysis still relevant today?  Explain and give examples.

4). Was the design Constitution driven primarily by the need to promote a market economy? Give both sides, looking at the evidence from Robertson. 

5). Explain how American federalism has affected the development of the American economy, drawing on the design of the 1787 Constitution and consequences that are evident in American history since then. Does federalism still matter for economic policy?

6). Charles Tilly called the state (that is, the national government) a “protection racket” rather than a social contract.  Explain.  Is it true? Take both sides.

7).  How did the institutional rules (North) in place in the U.S. (Robertson) affect the developments that Cronon describes?

8). Could St. Louis have become Chicago?  Be sure to include the importance of capital investment. 



September 13:               Systems in Crisis: Industrialization

        Paper Topic Due


Read:  Caporaso & Levine, Theories of Political Economy, 55-78
           North, Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance , 73-91
           Gourevich, Politics in Hard Times 1-123

Discussion questions:


Signup for 1 question in this group

1). Is Marxism dead, sleeping, or morphing into something else?  Does it have relevance for the post-industrial economy, or is it confined to industrializing nations, Discuss there still exist such things as classes and class conflict in modern capitalism. Give both sides.

2). Does North’s analysis on page 73-91 fundamentally support or fundamentally oppose Marx? Give both sides.

3). Does North’s argument in chapter 12 amount to blaming the victim -- that is, blaming poor countries that are actually poor because rich countries enriched themselves at poor countries’ expense?


Signup for 1 question in this group and 1 country under question 9

4). What is the production profile and what are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach? Give examples from your country (below) and course readings. How would this apply today?

5). What is the intermediary explanation, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach? Give examples from your country (below) and course readings. How would this apply today?

6). What is the State structure explanation and what are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach? What does he mean by “Rules shape the process of aggregation” (61) Give examples from your country (below) and course readings. How would this apply today?

7). What is the economic ideology explanation and what are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach? Give examples from your country (below) and course readings. How would this apply today?

8). What is the international system explanation and what are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach? Give examples from your country (below) and course readings. How would this apply today?

9). Everyone: Sign up for one of these countries:


September 20            
Business, Labor, & Progressivism


Discussion questions: Sign up for 2

1)Explain the factors that made neo-classical economic theory so persuasive by the early twentieth century. Be sure to mention public goods, externalities and monopolies.  Use examples from Standard Oil.  Is neo-classical economics still the dominant perspective of political liberals in the U.S. today?

2). In light of question 2, assess this quote by John Maynard Keynes: “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.”  Give reasons that it remains right, and give reasons that it is mistaken.  Use other authors such as North in your answer.

3). What do the methods and the successes of Standard Oil allow us to draw any generalizations about the role of business in the political economy of industrialized nations (not just the U.S.)?  What are they?  About the role of business in the twenty-first century?

4). How did federalism affect the development of interest groups generally in the United States?  What are the political and economic policy consequences? Do Robertson, North, and Gourevitch provide compatible or incompatible answers to this question?

5).  What is the Progressive regime, according to Eisner? Is Progressive regulation “politically efficient,” to use North’s phrase?

6). Counterfactual: Could the United States have pursued a different strategy toward corporations, and if so, under what circumstances? Be sure to discuss the differences of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.  How would the political history of the U.S. be different if the national government had not enacted anti-trust laws?

7). Is the management of economic development the most important issue for understanding the politics of nations in the past century?  Give both sides.


September 27             Systems in Crisis: Depression and New Deal
    Short Paper 1 Due
    Read: Caporaso & Levine, Theories of Political Economy, 100-125;
The American Political Economy, 58-79;
                John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory ...
" 128-131 [MG];
Politics in Hard Times, 124-180;
                Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, 81-86
[MG]talism, and Democracy, 81-86 [MG]             

1). Why was Keynesianism so attractive to policy-makers in the mid-20th century?  Did it become irrelevant before the financial crisis? Has it now come back from the dead?

 2) Has globalization and the decline of manufacturing made Keynesianism irrelevant in the industrialized nations?  

3). Must democracy and capitalism always go hand in hand, as North suggests? If not, what are the consequences?

4). Did the New Deal "save capitalism from itself"?  Was it “politically efficient”? Be sure to give good reasons for both sides.   SIGNUP for one of these countries:

5). Everyone should pick one of these nations to examine more closely and answer this question:

Choose one of the countries (France, Sweden, England, Germany) and explain what happened and why.  To what degree were these nations path dependent? How does that country’s experience compare to the U.S.?

o   Britain

o  France

o   Sweden

o   Germany


October 4    The Golden Age of Managed Capitalism 

Discussion questions: Sign up for one of these:uestions: Sign up for one of these:

 1). What international economic policies did the U.S. champion after World War II?   Is free trade still an appropriate policy for the U.S. to support – or is it a tragic example of path dependence? 

 2). If Andrew Schonfield could update his analysis, what would he say about American economic policy? 

  3). How much influence does a president have over the economy?  Can a new president contribute significantly to economic growth in his first year?  Define “significantly.” Use the case of the Obama administration to illustrate both sides.

Discussion questions: Sign up for one of these:

  4). Would North welcome or condemn the inertial forces that Harris and Milkis identify (p. 31 ff). Give both sides. 

 5). Why do “Environmentalism and other forms of new social regulation appear more threatening to capitalism than the New Deal ever did” (Harris and Milkis, p. 65). Is this perception accurate, and is it still accurate now?

 6). How should the United States government decide what risks should be regulated by government and what risks should not?  Be sure to include “new left” ideas, and be specific about environmental, consumer, and workplace protection.

 7). Is the United States capable of effectively addressing the problem of global warming? Give both sides.


October 11  The Welfare State and Varieties of Capitalism

Discussion questions:  Sign up for one of these:

1). Why is it worthwhile to study “varieties of capitalism” (Hall and Soskice, Hall and Thelen)?  What new research questions does it generate?  How can these questions be made relevant to capitalism in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and its ongoing effects?

2). Why is the politics of institutional stability (Hall and Thelen) important?  Illustrate from your area of policy research.

3). Why is institutional change so important (Hall and Thelen)? What causes institutional change, in general and in your policy area? Explain the three routes of institutional change. What difference does any of this make?

Sign up for one of these:

4). What is the welfare state – what is included in the concept?  How did welfare states develop?  What are the challenges mentioned by Castles et al in their "Introduction," and are these challenges evident in the US?

5). What are the families of welfare states, according to Obinger and Wagschal? How do these nations compare to other families and each other? Have welfare state expenditures declined since 1980?

6). How do government revenues differ across welfare states and who cares?

7). Are the older welfare states in the OECD sustainable? Is the US welfare state sustainable?  Give both sides, and be sure to define sustainable.