Professor: Douglas Nelson

Office: Tilton 108 (Murphy Institute), Phone: 865-5317

Office Hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 3:30-5:30

Broadly speaking, Political Economy is the study of the interaction between the economy and the political system. Given the interdisciplinary nature of this field, it is not surprising that there is an extremely wide array of schools (Liberal, Marxist, Statist, ...), approaches (individualist, structuralist, functionalist, institutionalist, ...), methodologies (formal/mathematical, quantitative/econometric, historical, ...), et cetera. There are at least equally many ways to organize an introductory course on this topic: we could attempt a survey, touching briefly on each of the multitude of combinations implied by the list above; we could examine a variety of issues from any one these; or we can take some middle approach. We will take a middle approach. The main textbook (Shepsle) provides a synthetic analysis based on an essentially micro-analytic (i.e. rational choice) approach. In each of the main sections of the course we will supplement the main textbook with readings taking other approaches.

Course objectives:


■This course introduces students to major approaches to the study of political economy.


■Students should be able to apply individual and social choice theoretic tools to the analysis of the interaction between economics and politics. These core tools will be applied to issues such as the financial crisis and the evolving political economy of gender.


Students should be able to identify core controversies in the analysis of these issues and should develop theoretical frameworks, historical and quantitative data sufficient to support making well-grounded evaluations of those controversies.

Readings for the course will be drawn from the following books:

K. Shepsle (2010). Analyzing Politics. New York: Norton.

E.E. Schattschneider (1983). The Semisovereign People. New York: Holt, Rinehart.

S. Johnson and J. Kwak (2011) 13 Bankers. Vantage

T. Iversen and F. Rosenbluth (2011). Women, Work and Politics: The Political Economy of Gender Inequality.

Your performance in this course will be evaluated on the basis of two examinations (worth 100 points each); and two reaction papers (worth 50 points each). Students earning 90% or more of the available credit will receive a grade of A. All scores will be rebased relative to the highest earned score and letter grades for scores below 90% of the un-normalized scores will be determined according to that distribution.

With regard to the examinations. Each of the examinations will be made up of a number of identification and/or short-answer questions, and two or three essay questions that ask you to synthesize and apply material from the part of the course immediately preceding the examination. The midterm examination will be given only on 16 October in class. The final examination will be given only on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 at 8:00 am. Do not make travel or other plans that conflict with these dates.

With regard to the reaction papers. The subject of the reaction papers will be any two of the three supplementary books (i.e. one reaction paper per selected book). A reaction paper is a short paper discussing some aspect of the relevant reading, it is not a book report. In the reaction paper you must explicitly discuss the relevant reading and evaluate some central aspect of its discussion. Note: “evaluate” means that you must identify some central aspect of the books analysis, explain why you think this aspect is interesting/important, and present your evaluation of the author’s position (note that you must make an argument, simply asserting your agreement or disagreement will not be sufficient for a passing grade). The reaction papers are due in class on the first date scheduled for discussion of the readings (see syllabus), late papers will not be accepted and will earn a grade of zero. Your reaction paper mark will be based on 2 papers. However, you may turn in three papers and your mark will be based on the two highest scores.

A word of advice on the readings for the reaction papers. Each of these is a book and, whether or not you choose to write a reaction paper on a given book, you are required to read all three. It is a good idea to start reading the books early. That is, trying to read a book in a week will make you unhappy and you will probably not do a good job on the reaction paper or have really understood the book for when we discuss it in class.


Introduction to Political Economy


August 28, 30: General Course Introduction--Political Economy and Rational Choice


-Shepsle, Chapters 1 and 2

Part I: Group Choice

             September 4, 6, 11: The General Analysis of Group Choice


-Shepsle, Chapters 3 and 4

             September 13, 18, 20: Spatial Models of Majority Rule


-Shepsle, Chapter 5 (except pp. 123-141)


September 25, 27, October 2: Voting Methods and Electoral Systems


-Shepsle, Chapter 7


October 4, 9: Collective Action and Democracy


-Schattschneider, The Semisovereign People.


October 11: No Class, Fall break

Midterm Examination: 16 October

Part II: Collective Action


             October 18, 23: Some Simple Analytics of Cooperation


-Shepsle, Chapter 8


October 25, 30: The Collective Action Problem


-Shepsle, Chapter 9


November 1, 6, 9: The Political Economy of the 2007/8 Financial Crisis


-Johnson & Kwak, 13 Bankers

Part III: Institutional Analysis


November 9, 13, 15: Strategic Action in Group Choice (Sophisticated Voting)


-Shepsle, Chapter 6


November 15, 20: Legislatures


-Shepsle, Chapter 11, Chapter 5, pp. 123-141, and Chapter 12


November 22: No class, Thanksgiving holiday


November 27, 29: Bureaucracies


-Shepsle, Chapter 13


December 4, 6: Political Economy of Gender Inequality


-T. Iversen and F. Rosenbluth (2011). Women, Work and Politics: The Political Economy of Gender Inequality.

Final Examination: Wednesday, 12 December, 8:00-12:00