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Political Economy from Great Recession to Pandemic


We consider contemporary comparative political economy and macroeconomics of advanced industrial economies through the lens of the past decade and a half, bookended by the long recession kicked off by speculative bubbles and financial crisis, and the sharp, still evolving recession created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the period, massive technological change and widening inequality renewed debate on the appropriate role of government in managing the business cycle and addressing systemic disparities. In the shadow of a once-in-a-century public health crisis, the rich economies of the US and Europe face deep questions about the future of work in an era of automation, globalism in a time of xenophobia, and democracy under the rise of populism. We tackle three key questions through discussion of a mixture of popular and academic readings: What happened during the Great Recession, what political economic changes followed in its wake, and how will the experience and aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic reshape these trends?


Political Economy from Great Recession to Pandemic

Offered occasionally at the
University of Washington



Spring 2021

Class meets:
TTh 10:30 am–12:20 pm
Taught over Zoom

Lectures           Click on lecture titles to view slides or the buttons to download them as PDFs.

Day 1

Course Introduction  

Day 2

Contours of Change  

Day 3

Economics of the Financial Crisis, Part 1  

In discussing the answers to last week’s quiz, we will also consider a brief “reaction paper” I wrote regarding limits to the concept of moral hazard.

Day 4

Economics of the Financial Crisis, Part 2  

As you relive the financial crisis of the late 2000s, here are three (pre-COVID-19) news articles to ponder: on corporate debt, on the credibility of banking regulation, and on the weakening of post-crisis reforms.

Day 5

Politics of the Financial Crisis, Part 1  

Day 6

Politics of the Financial Crisis, Part 2  

Day 7

Stimulus, Austerity, and Recovery in the US  

See also this book review dealing with the continuing debate over the Obama administration’s decision to seek a smaller-than-economically-indicated stimulus.

Day 8

The Euro, Austerity, and Crisis, Part 1  

A handy summary of key economic indicators for selected countries involved in the Eurocrisis (and a reference case) before the crisis, at the peak of the crisis, and later in the 2010s.

Day 9

The Euro, Austerity, and Crisis, Part 2  

Day 10

Automation, Skills, and Inequality  

See also this fascinating review of the “overwork premium” and its strongly gendered consequences. The article contains many links to recent studies. Pay close attention to Claudia Goldin’s arguments. (How do they relate to Goldin and Katz’s book, which we read this week?)

Regarding automation, see also two videos exploring the debate between economists and “futurists”: one from CGP Gray and a more recent entry from Vox Media.

Day 11

Capital’s Return, Part 1  

To help calibrate our understanding of just how long lasting the benefits of inherited wealth can be, consider England, where direct descendants of the Norman conquerors of 1066 retain significant economic advantages, and where a tiny fraction of (often aristocratic) landowners still hold most of the land.

Days 12 & 13

Capital’s Return, Parts 2 & 3  

Day 14

Democratic Responsiveness and Economic Change, Part 1  

Day 15

Democratic Responsiveness and Economic Change, Part 2  

Day 16

Economic Change and Populism  

Please also read these insightful articles from the Washington Post and the New York Times on the 2019 closure of the Lordstown GM plant and its impact of Youngstown-area workers.

For a groundlevel view of the 2020 election in Youngstown, watch this Guardian video. For a 2021 update on the Lordstown plant, see this recent article on the travails of “Lordstown Motors.”

My findings on metro-level presidential partisan swings in the 2016 US presidential election can be replicated by running this R script on data scraped by Tony McGovern from Townhall.com and The Guardian (last accessed 14 May 2017).

Day 17

The COVID-19 Pandemic: Immediate Responses & Economic Effects  

Students should also make use of the New York Times’ unparalleled COVID-19 interactives, including their resources on US epidemiological data, global epidemiological data, and US vaccination trends.

Day 18

The COVID-19 Pandemic: Economic and Political Consequences  

Timely pieces on billionaires’ wealth explosion during the pandemic (Financial Times) and Bolsonaro’s pursuit of herd immunity at the expense of lives in Brazil (New York Times).

Day 19

Politics and Economics in the Post–COVID-19 World  

For some thoughts on where the US epidemic may be headed, see this article interviewing Seattle-area public health experts.

This article about Paul Romer may help place Acemoglu’s criticisms of the tech sector in a broader economic context.

Day 20

Solutions to 21st Century Problems  

Above are the questions submitted by the class of Spring 2021. You may also be interested in the questions asked by classes in Spring 2019, Spring 2017, and Winter 2015.

Student Assignments

Reaction Papers

Due on Pre-arranged Dates

For three pre-arranged class meetings, students will turn in a 2–3 page “reaction paper” addressing that day’s readings. To receive full credit, this paper must be more than a summary of arguments from the readings. A good reaction paper can take several forms: you might choose to critique one or more readings closely, to compare and contrast the arguments and findings of several readings, or to place the readings in a broader context, including earlier readings in the course. Reaction papers are due via Canvas at the beginning of class; late papers will not be accepted.

Final Paper  

Due 8 June 2021, 3 pm

Students will write a longer (approximately 10–12 page) paper drawing on the course readings to answer an assigned question. Papers that clearly develop an argument and support that argument with well-sourced and explained evidence will receive the highest marks. Papers that fail to make a clear argument, that provide only weak, poorly explained, or poorly sourced evidence, or that suffer from serious deficits in writing will be marked down accordingly.

University of Washington link

CSSS Center for Statistics and the Social Sciences link

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