Short Paper 1

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


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

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. Explore the nature of “the knowledge problem” in economic development. What limits what “we” (economists, policymakers, development organizations, etc) are able to know or control about an economy. How does this show up in economic models, policy proposals for promoting growth, and outcomes in terms of economic growth? Is there a fundamental misunderstanding of what is knowable?

  2. P.T. Bauer summarizes economic development as the process of transforming production for subsistence to production for exchange. This echoes Adam Smith’s dictum that the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market.

  3. A common refrain of Bill Easterly’s book is that various economic models, theories of development, and policy programmes failed to achieve their development goals because they were inconsistent with “people respond to incentives.” What, specifically, does this mean, why does it keep showing up? In what ways are incentives often misaligned, and what are some of the major causes?

  4. How, and to what extent, do geographic factors (climate, location, disease, etc.) influence economic development?

  5. Lots of people today argue for a wide variety of reasons that our focus on economic growth is harmful, and/or we should focus on promoting or improving things other than economic growth for humanity. Some of variants of this argument call for us to focus more on on the environment, life satisfaction, human connectedness, spirituality, positive freedoms, or other transcendental values, and focus less on economic growth and/or the accumulation of things. Respond to these claims.

  6. A major criticism of economic policy and the record of economic development programs come down to a complaint about “neoliberalism.” This smear word is very hard to define, but is commonly associated with structural adjustment lending, the “Washington Consensus”, and “market fundamentalism.”Do a google search and witness what comes up.

    A wide variety of modern ills, in fact, are blamed on “neoliberalism,” not just related to issues of economic development.Do a search of any academic journal, or Google Scholar, for “neoliberalism,” and witness what happens.

    What do you think neoliberalism is, and how do you believe is it related to economic development? To what extent is it “good” and/or “bad?”

  7. Can foreign aid promote economic development? Why or why not? Or, if you believe it can under specific conditions, what are those conditions, and why?