“The consequences for human welfare involved in questions like these are simply staggering: Once one starts to think about them, it is hard to think about anything else. – Robert Lucas, Nobel Laureate in Economics 1995”

Economic Development Instructor
Dr. Ryan Safner
118 Rosenstock
Office hours: TuTh 10:30–11:30AM

August 26–December 10, 2019
11:30 AM–12:45 PM
215 Rosenstock

asks and attempts to answer the fundamental question posed by Adam Smith in 1776: why are some countries wealthy, and others poor?. Before “economics” emerged as its own discipline in the 20th century, and adopted more rigorous mathematical trappings, the exploration of political economy attempted to answer this question: political, social, and cultural institutions and histories had as much to offer as the division of labor and market exchanges in answering the challenge. In the aftermath of WWII, economists in “the First World” began more consciously studying how to promote development in “the Third World”, while policymakers built international institutions (the IMF, the World Bank, the Bretton-Woods financial systems) aimed at securing peace and outwardly developing what they say as the “Third World.” In order to grapple with these key questions, we will examine a mixture of political economy and economic history to understand the role of political, cultural, and social institutions in directing economic activity towards prosperity or towards ruin. This course, like the professionals dealing with the big questions, will offer many suggestions but fewer “correct” or concrete answers than you may be used to. You should come to this course as a willing participant in the ongoing conversation.

The economics of development combines core themes and models of macroeconomics (growth theory, macroeconomic stability and policy) with core principles of microeconomics (price theory), and as such, the prerequisites for this course are either ECON 205 or ECON 206.

This course will be a hybrid of formal lecture, hands-on activities, and student presentations of scholarly articles, with exams and a writing writing assignment serving as the prime means of evaluation.

Student Learning objectives

By the end of this course, you will:

Given these objectives, this course fulfills two of the learning outcomes for the George B. Delaplaine, Jr. School of Business Economics B.A. program:

My standard disclaimer: This class may challenge many of your existing beliefs and conceptions about how the world works, and how it should work. This is the most important and exciting part of a liberal arts education. This does not mean that I want to make you to see everything “my way.” In fact, if you come out of this class thinking exactly like me, then I have probably failed you as a teacher. To the best of my ability, I keep my opinions to myself unless relevant for purposes of discussion, and I respect and invite you to reach your own conclusions on all matters.

Content warning: this class will cover sensitive political and cultural topics and compel you to grapple with countries, cultures, and viewpoints very different from your own. To put it mildly, these topics may include themes of violence, slavery, imperialism, and different ideologies inherently wrapped up in the tragic history of both the developed and developing world.

If at any point you find yourself struggling in this course for any reason, please come see me. Do not suffer in silence! Coming to see me for help does not diminish my view of you, in fact I will hold you in higher regard for understanding your own needs and taking charge of your own learning. There are also a some fantastic resources on campus, such as the Center for Academic Achievement and Retention (CAAR) and the Beneficial-Hodson Library.

See my tips for success in this course.

Course materials


My lecture slides (made available to you) are the primary resource for the material and the best guide to prepare for assignments. There are two books that we will roughly be following in parallel, both available at the bookstore (or you can find them on Amazon, ebay, etc). You may choose to purchase used or old versions, but be aware that content and ordering may slightly vary across versions.

  1. Acemoglu, Daron and James A. Robinson, 2008, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, New York: Crown Business
  2. Easterly, William, 2000, The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics, Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press

Both books are landmarks in the study of economic development by renowned development economists and are written for a popular audience. These books should be easily readable and affordable – you could buy and read them at the airport or the beach (should you be nerdy enough like me). Both are listed as required in the bookstore, but feel free to get them elsewhere.

The first book is something like “our textbook” for the course, as it outlines many of the key topics that we cover this semester. We will have frequent readings from it, but my coverage of topics and sequencing will be different from the book. It is one of my favorite books due to the central role that different institutions play in determining the variation among countries today.

The second book is older, but aptly describes the history of development economics as a field, and is a brilliant and relentless narrative of all of the policies, fads, and politics of the development community and how many of them went horribly wrong.


Throughout the course, I will post both required and supplemental (non-required) readings that enrich your understanding for each topic. Check frequently for announcements and updates to assignments, readings, and grades.

Assignments and grades

You can find full descriptions for all the assignments on the assignments page.

Assignment Percent
n Participation (Average) 25%
1 Country Profile 5%
2 Short Paper 20% each
1 Final 30%

All grades are based on the following traditional scale:

Grade Range Grade Range
A 93–100% C 73–76%
A− 90–92% C− 70–72%
B+ 87–89% D+ 67–69%
B 83–86% D 63–66%
B− 80–82% D− 60–62%
C+ 77–79% F < 60%

Policies and Expectations

This syllabus is a contract between you, the student, and me, your instructor. It has been carefully and deliberately thought outA syllabus can and will be used as a legal document for disputes tried at a court of law. Ask me how I know.

, and I will uphold my end of the agreement and expect you to uphold yours.

In the language of game theory, this syllabus is my commitment device. I am a very understanding person, and I know that exceptions to rules often need to be made for students. However, to be fair to all students the syllabus artificially constrains my ability to make exceptions at a whim for anyone. This prevents clever students from exploiting my congenial personality at everyone else’s expense. Please read and familiarize yourself with the course policies and expectations of you. Chances are, if you have a question, it is answered herein.

Attendance and Participation

I expect you to attend class and to come having already done the reading assigned for that day. I will remind you in class and possibly through Blackboard or email which readings I want you to read for the next class. You are all adults and I will treat you as such. I do not take attendance, nor do I grade formally for participation but I strongly recommended you attend class and participate for your sake and the sake of your classmates. If you are too distracted or are not prepared to learn, I suggest you stay home, where you can check Facebook more efficiently. I reserve the right to boost the final grades of students that I believe have made consistent, quality contributions above and beyond their peers in class conversations by up to 2.5 points.


You are allowed to have and use laptops and tablets in the classroom. I will not stop you, but I strongly discourage you from using these to take notes (see Tips for Success). As a courtesy to myself and to others, do not use your phone in class. I reserve the right to embarrass you in front of everyone if you do so.

Absences and Make-Ups

You generally do not need to let me know if you are unable to make class, unless it is on the day of an exam. It will however, be your responsibility to acquire the notes from a classmate for any missed classes. If you are unable to attend an exam for a legitimate reason (e.g. sports/club events, traveling, illness, family issues), please notify me at least one week in advance, and we will schedule a make-up exam date. If you are ill or otherwise unable to attend on the day of the exam, contact me ASAP to make arrangements. Failure to do so, including desperate attempts to make arrangements only after the absence will result in a grade of 0 and little sympathy. I reserve the right to re-weight other assignments for students who I believe are legitimately unable to complete a particular assignment.

Late Assignments

I will accept late assignments, but will subtract a specified amount of points as a penalty. See individual assignment descriptions for the amount of points taken off (as it varies by assignment). If an answer key is posted before you turn in your assignment, the maximum grade you can earn is an 80. Even if it is the last week of the semester, I encourage you to turn in late work: some points are better than no points!


I will try my best to post grades on Blackboard’s Grading Center and return graded assignments to you within about one week of you turning them in. There will be exceptions. Where applicable, I will post answer keys once I know most homeworks are turned in (see Late Assignments above for penalties). Blackboard’s Grading Center is the place to look for your most up-to-date grades. You will also be given an Excel spreadsheet template where you can calculate your overall grade and forecast “what if” scenarios.

Email Accounts

Students must regularly monitor their Hood email accounts to receive important college information, including messages related to this class. Email through the Blackboard system is my main method of communicating announcements and deadlines regarding your assignments. Please do not reply to any automated Blackboard emails - I may not recieve it!. My Hood email () is the best means of contacting me. I will do my best to respond within 24 hours. If I do not reply within 48 hours, do not take it personally, and feel free to send a follow up email in the very likely event that I genuinely did not see your original message.

Office Hours

I am generally in my office Monday-Thursday during “normal business hours.” You are always welcome to walk-in and chat about class, college, careers, or anything at all. Please do try to use the official office hours stated at the head of the syllabus if possible. If you need to meet at a different time, I request that you send me an email or let me know after class so I know when to expect you. If you want to go over material from class, please have specific questions you want help with. I am not in the business of giving private lectures (particularly if you missed class without a valid excuse).

Watch this excellent and accurate video explaining office hours:


Students are responsible for verifying their enrollment in this class. The last day to add or drop this class with no penalty is Tuesday, September 4. Be aware of important dates.

Honor Code

Hood College has an Academic Honor Code which requires all members of this community to maintain the highest standards of academic honesty and integrity. Cheating, plagiarism, lying, and stealing are all prohibited. All violations of the Honor Code are taken seriously, will be reported to appropriate authority, and may result in severe penalties, including expulsion from the college. See here for more detailed information.

Van Halen and M&Ms

When you have completed reading the syllabus, email me a picture of the band Van Halen and a picture of a bowl of M&Ms. If you do this before the due date of the first paper, you will get 3 bonus points on the paper. Yes, this is real.

Accessibility, Equity, and Accommodations

College courses can, and should, be challenging and bring you out of your comfort zone in a safe and equitable environment. If, however, you feel at any point in the semester that certain assignments or aspects of the course will be disproportionately uncomfortable or burdensome for you due to any factor beyond your control, please come see me or email me. I am a very understanding person and am happy to work out a solution together. I reserve the right to modify and reweight assignments at my sole discretion for students that I belive would legitimately be at a disadvantage, through no fault of their own, to complete them as described.

If you are unable to afford required textbooks or other resources for any reason, come see me and we can find a solution that works for you.

This course is intended to be accessible for all students, including those with mental, physical, or cognitive disabilities, illness, injuries, impairments, or any other condition that tends to negatively affect one’s equal access to education. If at any point in the term, you find yourself not able to fully access the space, content, and experience of this course, you are welcome to contact me to discuss your specific needs. I also encourage you to contact the Office of Accessibility Services (301-696-3421). If you have a diagnosis or history of accommodations in high school or previous postsecondary institutions, Accessibility Services can help you document your needs and create an accommodation plan. By making a plan through Accessibility Services, you can ensure appropriate accommodations without disclosing your condition or diagnosis to course instructors.


You can find a full schedule with resources for each class meeting on the schedule page.