Political Economy of OECD Countries

Subject Code: GSOC

Course Number: 5071

This course is about the organization and dynamics of an important set of countries in the contemporary world. Defining this set in terms of relative wealth (measured in gdp per capita or other terms), a robust provision of public goods (from infrastructure to social welfare), and relatively open and minimally democratic political systems provides a starting point. In brief we can call these the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries or rich market democracies.

How do countries gain their membership in this club and keep it? First, we will try to define the set more clearly. Over the last three decades analysts have identified and named it as advanced capitalist countries, industrial democracies, advanced market countries, the Global North, varieties of capitalism, and more. The OECD now has 34 members, in most (not all) regions. And a number of nonmembers contain significant zones that seem to share ‘OECD’ traits. There are problems with these terms and definitions – can we do better?

Whatever we choose to call these countries, we will analyze them in terms of the following questions: What keeps most of them (relatively) rich? Why do they remain at least minimally democratic in most cases? How do they organize the provision of public goods (from social and economic infrastructure to social welfare), and why is this now contested so widely? How do they manage the significant cultural, ethnonational, religious, and other differences that exist almost everywhere? What has become of the various lefts that have proposed alternative conceptions of how to organize these countries over the last decades?

The course is open to M.A. and Ph.D. students in Politics, and may be of interest to students in other Departments. We will consider the United States as an interesting case as regards several issues. Neither course sessions nor requirements will require facility in using statistical, formal, or econometric methods. The main requirement will be a paper, and given the course’s comparative framework and aims, cooperation among students in research and writing will be encouraged. 


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